The approval of the plan for the economic advancement of Israel’s Arab society is a precedent setting move, setting us on a long and vital path to reduce the disparities between Jews and Arabs in the State of Israel.
(Communicated by the President’s Spokesperson)
President Rivlin on Wednesday evening (24 February 2016), together with Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon MK, and Minister for Social Equality Gila Gamliel MK, held a meeting at the President’s Residence with heads of the Arab local and regional authorities, to address the issue of the Government’s newly passed five year economic plan to advance the status of the Arab community in Israel. Also addressing the meeting was Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office Eli Groner, Chairman of the Committee of Local Councils Mazan Ganaim, and Director of Budget in the Finance Ministry Amir Levi. The event was attended by over 170 people including representatives of Government ministries, representatives and local leaders of the Arab community in Israel.
During the meeting, the key points and goals of the five year plan were presented in detail, followed by round-table discussions.
The President opened his address and spoke of the fatal terror attack which had occurred just a few hours earlier. He said, "We have in the last moments received the terrible news of the death of Captain Eliav Gelman, who was killed during efforts to subdue a terrorist who struck today at the Gush Etzion junction. There can be no forgiving terror, there can be no tolerating terror, and all those sitting here today must condemn terror outright. The fire of terrorism, which has taken from us so many victims, is the same fire which will burn the bridges that we are trying to build here today. I send my deepest condolences to the bereaved family."
The President went on to speak of the importance of the economic plan. He said, "Sitting here together, shoulder to shoulder, are elected officials and senior civil servants, leaders of Israeli Arab society, Arab mayors – leaders of Israeli society. I congratulate you all, for the hope you bring with you today, and for coming to join the round-table discussions we will have later. The approval of the plan for the economic advancement of Israel’s Arab society is a precedent setting move for two reasons. First on the part of the government; while this decision may not be perfect, it is one of the most important decisions – both practically and symbolically – that any Israeli government has made. This decision ‘grabs the bull by the horns’, and sets us on a long and vital path to reduce the disparities between Jews and Arabs in the State of Israel. I wish to once again congratulate the Government of Israel and the Prime Minister, on this brave and important decision."
He added, "This important decision will be judged in its implementation. We are now on the path which can lead us to the beginning of substantial change, or, heaven forbid, a grave disappointment. Should we fail even before we take the first step, we will have every reason – wrongly – to continue to believe that the gap between Jews and Arabs would be unsolvable. We must not fail. We do not have the privilege of failure. Sitting here are the representatives of Government ministries together with Arab mayors, with the aim of bringing the program’s different parties. The successful implementation of this program also depends on the commitment of the parties, sitting here around the table, to establish trust between them. I hope and expect that today’s discussions will yield other such meetings, deepening the ties between the two sides in order to realize the plan’s goals."
The President concluded by congratulating Minister of Finance, and Minister for Social Equality, along with all those who played a role in the formation of the plan. He added, "While unfortunately, there are those, individual Knesset Members who seek to cynically and maliciously sabotage our ability to establish trust between us, nevertheless we are here today because we believe in our path. I look forward to hearing from you, Arab leaders, a clear expression of the Arab public’s contempt for such obstructive attempts. Our perseverance is being tested in difficult times. I pray that we are strong enough to persist in paving our road toward a different future – for us, for our children, for our grandchildren."
In his address, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon MK said, "The government knows to give, the local authorities must know to take. When one wants to take in order to develop, they will always find a government which wants to help. When there is a good head of the local authority, the residents and the whole area benefit also from the full cooperation of the government. The local authority heads with whom I was in contact fulfilled their roles in an extraordinary manner, and care truly and deeply for their residents. I want to thank Amir Levi, Director of Budget in the Finance Ministry, for his work. This is a good, professional, and genuine project. If there are demands, we are able to talk."
Minister for Social Equality Gila Gamliel MK also addressed the participants and said, "This is an important, historic step on the way to closing the gaps, and to the advancement of social equality in Israel. The plan approved by the government is very comprehensive and includes all issues relating to the local authorities and the lives of Israel’s Arab citizens. This is a dramatic declaration, for the first time, the Government of Israel is changing the way in which resources are allocated by government offices in a way that ensures Israel’s Arab citizens will receive their fair proportion of the national budget. This is a wide ranging and responsive plan which offers an immediate answer to the local authorities’ need to improve the lives of their residents, and at the same time contributes significantly to the education, cultural, employment, and housing infrastructure – which will serve as fertile ground for economic growth and a real narrowing of gaps. The project will happen without conditions."
Chairman of the Committee of Local Councils, Mazan Ganaim said, "I welcome this project, and this meeting, at this time, and in this place – thank you Mr. President. I want to thank you unconditionally on behalf of all of us. This five year project is a good program, and we must implement it. There are no others who are more sensitive to the obstacles faced by the Arab community today. Our hand is extended in cooperation to all."
Amir Levi, Director of Budget in the Finance Ministry said, "We are at the beginning of a process of economic development for the Arab community. The project brings together the heads of the local councils, representatives of the civil society, and many other bodies. The plan sets out long term goals, and the necessary steps to reach them through adjustments in the budget allocation. This is an especially moving event for me, and is taking place thanks to the welcome support of the President, and the Minister of Finance."
Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office, Eli Groner added, "The Prime Minister believes in the integration of the Arab society in Israel, and the Government under his charge has acted extensively in the last years to this end. Much investment has been approved and implemented in this area in housing and employment. These plans have led to a number of improvements so far, yet the gaps remain wide, and demand the government’s focused attention. Therefore, the plan approved in December includes fundamental changes in resource allocation mechanisms, this is of great significance. Read my lips – the Government is fully committed to the implementation of the plan."