The fate of the five-year plan for Arab society, which was approved by the Bennett government 16-months months ago, was unclear in the current government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the right-wing parties were critical of it, even though it was a continuation of the previous five-year program approved by the Netanyahu government in 2015, although the latest program doubled the amount allocated to the previous one.
However, at the cabinet meeting to approve the budget last Thursday and Friday, the five-year program was actually approved, almost fully, except for the transport infrastructure, which would have cost NIS 20 billion over 20 years.
Since the government was formed, senior officials have striven to persuade the various ministers, especially the Minister of Finance and the Minister for Social Equality, of the necessity of the plan for Arab society and the entire country. The first to be convinced was Minister for Social Equality Amichai Chikli, after meetings with dozens of Arab mayors, during which he promised that he would work to continue the program.
Smotrich also convinced of the necessity of the plan
Chikli met with Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich - who was initially skeptical about the plan. According to sources present during the discussions, Smotrich devoted many meetings and much time to studying the plan, despite being in the midst of the budget discussions and the other issues on his desk. Eventually Smotrich too became convinced of the necessity of the plan - and gave it the green light.
However, Smotrich ruled that the plan would continue fully in order to reduce gaps between Arab authorities and Jewish local authorities, but with budgets in excess of those being received by local Jewish authorities. In the plan there is a section - benefits in the purchase of apartments and land for Arabs. This is a budget of tens of millions of shekels through the Ministry of Construction and Housing. The officials responsible for the five-year plan did not want to give it up and finally it was decided not to cancel the section, but to reexamine the issue, and postpone a final decision.
Having reached these agreements, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Social Equality came to the cabinet meeting, and presented it to the ministers. The plan is based on two budgetary sources, half from ministry budgets and half from a special Ministry of Finance allocation. There were ministers who opposed it at the meeting, but finally the pressure exerted by Netanyahu, Smotrich and Chikli succeeded, and the plan was approved as part of the budget.
The plan was approved but will the ministers cooperate
However, for the five-year plan to actually receive the funds requires the various government ministries to apply the plans set by the previous government. It is by no means certain that the current ministers will put the plan for Arab society at the top of their priorities.
For example, the Ministry for Negev and Galilee Development Ministry has other issues it wants to fund before handling the plan for Arab society. The Ministry of Environmental Protection has also passed some of the budgets for Arab society for other purposes.
One source involved in the plan told "Globes" that, on the one hand, the plan's re-approval in the current government was never certain, while on the other hand it is clear that it will be more difficult to harness the ministers and their ministries to implement the program, which requires resources and the attention of the ministries. The source noted that the previous government also had ministries that made it difficult to push forward with the plan.
The money could reach organized crime
One of the issues that the previous government was criticized for was the supervision of funds, and the possibility of it falling into the hands of organized crime in Arab society. Former Ministry of Interior director general Yair Hirsh estimated that in the first five-year plan, close to NIS 1 billion reached organized crime by operating pressure and threats to win tenders.
Hirsh tried to set up an authority to supervise the Arab authorities, but this initiative was not completed. As part of the budget approval for the program now, no special attention was given on the issue. Although some of the tenders are conducted through the Local Government Companies Authority, and some through other government companies, most are still implemented through the Arab authorities themselves, and should be under ministry supervision. It is unclear what the current government will do on the issue.
The five year plan will tackle socioeconomic issues but NIS 2.5 billion was also allocated to eradicate crime and violence in Arab society.
Ben-Gvir to receive NIS 9b without even presenting a plan
The five-year plan was formerly managed by former Deputy Minister of Public Security Yoav Segalovich, and currently there is no manager for the plan. One of the stated targets of the Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir, is combatting crime and violence, with emphasis on Arab society, even though he calls it other names such as governance. Ben- Gvir demanded and received a considerable budget addition of NIS 9 billion for this.
But sources familiar with the matter told "Globes" that Ben-Gvir received the budget without presenting any clear plan for the money. Sources believe that the money will be used primarily to establish Ben-Gvir's new National Guard. Bottom line is that the fate of the plan to fight crime and violence in Arab society remains completely unclear.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on February 28, 2023.
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