(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

The Cabinet for Strengthening Haifa and the North, chaired by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, today (Thursday), 14 September 2006, unanimously approved the detailed plan for strengthening the north that was submitted by the Prime Minister and by Vice Premier Shimon Peres. Olmert said: “For many years, there have been promises. This time, the Government of Israel is allocating the funds and is creating an unprecedented possibility vis-a-vis the resources that it is investing in this issue… Of course, the plan will be measured by its output. Not everything can change in one day. This is a long and continuous process.” Peres said: “Implementing the plan will contribute to the economic and social strengthening of the Galilee, will restore residents’ confidence, and will assist in drawing a quality and strong population from the center of the country to the Galilee.”

The plan was prepared by a steering committee chaired by Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Director-General Ra’anan Dinur and by four professional teams that were established under the direction of the directors-general of the Vice Premier’s Office and the Finance, Interior and Health ministries. The overall plan for strengthening Haifa and the north is expected to reach over NIS 4 billion, of which approximately NIS 1.5 billion is expected to come from non-budgetary sources, mostly from contributions from the Jewish People under the aegis of Vice Premier Peres.

The plan concerns the Government’s existing and supplementary budgets, at a sum of approximately NIS 2.8 billion, which will be invested in dozens of projects in Haifa and the north. Approximately NIS 1.5 billion of this amount will be used to supplement the budgets of various Government ministries, in accordance with the Cabinet’s 12 September 2006 decision, while another approximately NIS 1.25 billion will be added to existing budgets.

Among the supplementary funds, approximately NIS 184 million will be invested in encouraging development and employment in the north, including subsidizing wages in the high-tech and industrial sectors in the north, increased support for exports, subsidizing ground development costs in industrial zones in both the Jewish and minority sectors, in increased subsidies for daycare centers and in finding solutions for single mothers who wish to enter the employment market. The Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry will receive NIS 46 million, which along with funds from existing budgets, will be used for grants for new agricultural projects, and for increasing the amount of land under cultivation, in the north. The Environment Ministry will receive a supplementary budget of approximately NIS 40 million to finance a large-scale project to rehabilitate streams and rivers in the north, including the Jordan, the Tzalmon, the Peki’in and the Kishon. With an investment of several million shekels, the Environment Ministry will also deal with the Sea of Galilee and asbestos removal.

The Health Ministry will receive a supplementary budget of approximately NIS 70 million for the construction of new wings at hospitals and medical institutions in the north. The National Infrastructures Ministry will provide grants for the reconstruction of sewage infrastructure, mainly in the non-Jewish sector and, to this end, will receive a supplementary budget of approximately 50 million; this is in addition to approximately NIS 120 million from its current budget. The Transportation Ministry will invest approximately NIS 145 million in paving roads in both the Jewish and non-Jewish sectors.  Specific investment plans have also been prepared for other ministries, including the Science, Culture and Sports Ministry, the Construction and Housing Ministry and the Social Affairs Ministry.

At the start of the meeting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made the following remarks:

“As you know, the government of Israel has decided to give high priority to the development of Haifa and the north. To this end, the government has budgeted approximately NIS 3 billion with another approximately NIS 1 billion having been contributed by Jewish communities from around the world.
Thus, a total budgetary supplement of NIS 4 billion beyond natural growth has been designated for strengthening Haifa and the north.

Strengthening the north has been discussed for many years. For many years, there have been promises. This time, the government of Israel is allocating the funds and is creating an unprecedented possibility vis-a-vis the resources that it is investing in this issue.

Most of the funds will be transferred for social purposes. As with the state budget, preference will be given to education, which is – as far as we are concerned – the basis for creating equality and the basis for the possibility of economic subsidies and development for the north. We will also invest major budgets in encouraging employment, in infrastructure, in tourism and in other social concerns.

Of course, the plan will be measured by its output. Not everything can change in one day. This is a long and continuous process. This plan also relates to the development of the area around the Gaza Strip, including Sderot, with the allocations and budgetary resources for these areas in the south being exactly as they are regarding the areas in the north. Thus, there is an equal approach here, an equal status and equal investment.”