The Cabinet, at its weekly meeting yesterday was briefed on the activity of the Prime Minister’s Office Authority for the Economic Development of the Arab, Druze and Circassian Sectors. After presentation of the development plan, the Cabinet discussed ways to integrate minority populations in the Israeli economy while recognizing the socio-economic importance of the process. It should be noted that Prime Minister’s Office Director General Harel Locker is currently overseeing the preparation of the next five-year economic development plan for the minorities sector in cooperation with Authority Director Aiman Saif and other government ministries.
The Cabinet also approved yesterday a draft decision according to which the government ministry director generals will – in the context of their annual work plans – prepare detailed work plans on the minorities sector that will be presented to PMO Dir.-Gen. Harel. The director generals will appoint workers to oversee advancing the detailed plans. It was also determined that once a year the Cabinet will receive a report on the plans and the ministries’ budgets for advancing minorities.
Thanks to a government investment of NIS 4 billion over the years 2010-2014, there has been a 10% increase in eligibility for matriculation in the minorities sector in 2012, a 40% increase in the number of exporters and an over 30% increase in exports from among minority populations, a 27% increase (approximately NIS 18 million) in loans granted by a designated fund for small businesses in the minorities sector.
Main points of Authority for the Economic Development of the Arab, Druze and Circassian Sectors activity:
The inter-ministerial plan for the economic development of the Arab sector was passed by the Cabinet on 21 March 2010 and is worth NIS 780 million for 2010-2014. The goal of the plan is to bring about the integration of the minorities sector in the economic life of the State of Israel and thus lead to an improvement in quality-of-life, and increase the sector’s contribution to GDP. In contrast with previous plans, the plan was formulated in cooperation with Arab local authorities and is in accordance with their unique needs.
The plan includes 13 communities (Maghar, Sakhnin, Shfaram, Nazareth, Arrabe, Tamra, Daliyat al-Carmel, Isfiya, Tira, Kfar Kassem, Um al-Fahm, Kalansua and Rahat) that were chosen according to professional criteria and which together include approximately 350,000 residents.
During the discussion, data was presented on the main achievements of the plan in the past three years. The plan’s implementation rate currently stands at 82%.
The economic-business field: The Authority has led significant projects that have increased sources of financing including seven investments in initiatives in various fields worth approximately NIS 30 million, via the Al Bawader investment fund. Also, in 2012, there was a 27% increase (NIS 18 million) in loans granted by a designated fund for small businesses in the minorities sector. The amount of state-guaranteed credit given to minorities-owned businesses stood at approximately NIS 300 million in 2012.
Authority activity has led to businesses having access to new markets via a plan in cooperation with the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute and the Fund for Promoting Overseas Marketing. This has led to an approximately 40% and an over 30% increase in exports by minority populations.
The social-employment field: The Authority has led – in cooperation with the Economy and Finance ministries – the "Employment Plan" to integrate 50,000 Arab women in the workforce at an overall investment of approximately NIS 730 million. The Authority has also promoted two unique campaigns, to encourage the employment of minorities sector academics in the business sector and to integrate workers in state institutions, respectively.
These campaigns have raised awareness of the importance of employing minorities and have been received with great interest. Six new regional guidance centers have been opened in Tira, Sakhnin, Tamra, Um al-Fahm, Shfaram and Arrabe.
The housing and real estate sector: The Authority has continued to lead extensive reforms in cooperation with the Housing and Construction Ministry including, for the first time in the Arab sector, the construction of a modern residential neighborhood in Sakhnin. After dealing with initial challenges in marketing the project, there has been a significant breakthrough and over 1,000 residential units have been successfully marketed in the past year. Also, the Authority is continuing to work towards increasing the supply of land available for housing by promoting the planning of thousands of residential units on private and state-owned land.
The transportation sector:The Authority, via the Transportation and Road Safety Ministry, has led to a significant change in the travel patterns of minority populations within communities and from communities to main cities. Lines have been upgraded, frequencies have been increased and some lines enjoy subsidized prices. As a result of all this, the number of weekly passengers on public transportation in minority communities has increased by approximately 580% and now stands at 194,000 passengers a week.
The industrial sector: In the framework of the provisions of the Trajtenberg plan regarding demand for workers, the Authority – in conjunction with the Economy and Finance ministries – has completed a NIS 150 budgetary allocation for implementing a plan to increase available employment areas in minority communities. Most of budget – approximately NIS 120 million – has been allocated for developing and upgrading industrial zones. Approximately NIS 30 million has been allocated to advancing planning for new industrial areas.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "We must develop and encourage businesses among the non-Jewish population, and give them all the tools to succeed. We must invest in infrastructures, transportation, housing and education. We must give them the opportunity to develop. At the same time, we must work against the extremes in Arab society that try to prevent progress and development and to encourage isolationism. They are attacking those who want to integrate and, therefore, we will act against them. The future must be victorious over the past."
PMO Dir.-Gen. Locker said, "The Government of Israel ascribes great importance to the integration of minority populations into Israeli society and the economy. Optimal integration will move the State of Israel forward. This is the challenge in which we are investing effort and resources and it is possible to see that it is already bearing fruit."
Authority Director Aiman Saif said that the data shows that investing in the economic integration of minority populations has a high return for the state. Due to the major gaps, it is necessary to expand investments in order to exhaust the potential and assist in turning the State of Israel into an economic world leader. It has been proven that with professional work and optimal cooperation with the various government ministries and the target population, it is possible to implement government plans with great success.