(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met today (Wednesday), 11 August 2004, with representatives of the Committee of Arab Local Authority Heads and announced that the assistance plan for the Arab local authorities would also be activated in 2005 and 2006.  The Arab local authority representatives thanked the Prime Minister for meeting them on such short notice.  They asked the Prime Minister to assist the local authorities, especially regarding balancing and development budgets.

Prime Minister Sharon decided to establish a joint Prime Minister’s Office-Arab Local Authorities Committee team to advance the issue of reducing inter-sector gaps.  The Prime Minister directed that the master plans for the Arab sector be accelerated, this in accordance with government decisions.  The team will focus on classroom construction, housing construction and the development of industrial zones.  Prime Minister Sharon and Prime Minister’s Office Director-General Ilan Cohen announced industrial zones would be established soon in Nazareth and Umm al-Fahm.

At the start of the meeting, Prime Minister Sharon made the following remarks:

“I am pleased to host the representatives of the Committee of Arab Local Authority Heads.  This is not our first meeting and I have always ascribed great importance to these meetings.

My government has acted, and continues to act, on behalf of the non-Jewish sector and towards reducing the gaps that have been created over the years. I chair the Ministerial Committee on the Non-Jewish Sector and I see the issue of dealing with the non-Jewish sector as one of the goals of the 2005 budget.  I recently ordered that the assistance plan for Arab sector communities be extended by two years, this in order to complete items that were in the previous plan, which have yet to be carried out; therefore, I extended the period by two additional years in order to complete what we intended to do.

As one who believes that education is one of the cornerstones of the State of Israel, I am happy to see that our investment in education in the non-Jewish sector and the projects to construct hundreds of classrooms, are bearing fruit, and that there is a 7% increase in those eligible for the matriculation exams in the sector.  We are not content with this increase but it is promising.

Moreover, the plan for improving sewage infrastructure, worth over NIS 400 million, has been carried out.  I see this as a genuine revolution even if there is still room for improvement.  We are investing great efforts and resources but we must close the gaps that have been created over 50 years.

The Prime Minister’s Office will continue to supervise the government’s plans in the sector until the projects are fully completed.  Prime Minister’ s Office Director-General Ilan Cohen has met with you several times and is taking part in this effort; I am sure that he will do everything in his power to improve and strengthen the non-Jewish sector.

In order to continue reducing the gaps, we need the full cooperation of the local authority heads, mainly in areas such as completing the local authorities’ recovery, increasing tax collection abilities and regarding planning and construction.

I am familiar with the construction problem, the great lack of a master plan; I have directed that every effort be made to hasten master plans in the non-Jewish sector.  I hope that this will help all of us to uphold the building laws.  You also have not easy problems regarding illegal construction, which later disturbs construction plans.  In Umm al-Fahm there is such a problem regarding the construction of approximately 4,000 housing units that has been delayed due to illegal construction on part of the lands.  I wish to stress that I plan to continue these efforts.  I am sure that the steps we take together will certainly help to closing the gaps that exist today.  This is not a short process and much effort will have to be invested, and I have taken this mission upon myself and I intend to invest all the necessary effort to advance our common issues.”