Economic growth in the Arab sector will strengthen Israel`s economy, reduce poverty and increase the average income of the country`s citizens, according to officials who participated in Tuesday`s meeting of the Finance Committee on the need to establish industrial zones in Arab communities throughout Israel.

MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List), who initiated and chaired the discussion, called for the immediate establishment and upgrading of industrial zones in Arab communities ”in order to create new jobs and reduce poverty in the Arab sector.”

Tibi urged the Finance and Economy ministries to promote a multi-year plan for the development of Arab communities and industrial zones within them. He called on the government to ”set clear goals for the reduction of poverty, and ensure legislation and funding for master plans to advance the establishment of industrial zones within Arab communities and for the removal of barriers.”

Amir Reshef of the Finance Ministry said that over the past few years the government has allocated close to NIS 600 million to industrial zones in minority communities. ”In addition, we`ve made changes to expedite planning and strengthen the local committees in order to remove [bureaucratic] barriers for the development of industrial zones,” he said.

Finance Committee calls to establish industrial zones in Arab communities in order to reduce poverty

(MK Ahmad Tibi, archives)

Yigal Tzarfati, Director of the Economy and Industry Ministry`s Regional Development Authority, noted the importance of industrial zones for economic development. ”Planning and development must combine the needs of the industry and the needs of the population. We invite the committee to continue to be in touch with us so that we will be able to do this in the best possible way,” he said.

MK Ayman Odeh (Joint List) called on the heads of Arab local councils to launch a public campaign. ”The Treasury`s approach is that there is `good money` and `money that is not as good,` which goes to welfare and health,” he said. ”The social matters that are so important to our society are viewed by the Treasury as not good. But developing industrial zones is a win win situation, because they will generate taxes and income for the state. And this is what we are demanding for increasing the employment rate in the sector, particularly among Arab women.”

”Cosmetic changes won`t help here. What we need is a public campaign, a struggle on the streets in order to break the glass ceiling of growth and development in Arab society,” Odeh added.

MK Abd Al Hakeem Haj Yahya (Joint List) said, ”Affirmative action is required because of all that we have not received for many years. If industrial zones will be developed in Arab communities, we will no longer need rehabilitation plans which do not help and which mean less services for the residents, because they are meant mainly to balance the budget and pay salaries.”

MK Manuel Trajtenberg (Zionist Camp) noted that the per capita income in the Arab sector amounts to 40% of the per capita income in the Jewish sector, ”and the goal is to close the vast gap between these two sectors. Investing in development zones would have contributed to closing the gap, and Israel`s production would increase by 12%, and this would change Israel`s standing in the world. The average income of all of Israel`s citizens would increase by 4,000 dollars a year. For this to happen, the growth rate in the Arab sector must, over time, be twice as high as the growth rate in the Jewish sector, and there is no chance this will happen with the existing plans.”

MK Eitan Broshi (Zionist Camp) argued that ”the state does not have a plan – not for Jews and not for Arabs – so the situation is difficult. There is no national plan for employment, and the main problem is that no serious factory will be built in these areas without the state`s investment in infrastructure.”

MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) said the State of Israel has an interest in seeing growth and productivity in the Arab sector, which are lagging behind growth and productivity in the Jewish sector. ”The model of living together should start with shared growth and industrial zones,” he said.

MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) said ”It is an historic injustice that to this day there are no industrial zones in Arab communities. There is no strategic plan for development within Arab communities.”

Fellow Joint List MK Basel Ghattas called for the ”fair distribution of the incomes” and said that instead of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu`s apology there needs to be a real investment whose effect will be much stronger than words, which we cannot [take to the bank].”

MK Jamal Zahalka (Joint List) said, ”It will take 300 years before the Treasury`s plans can be implemented. There are no serious plans. Billions must be designated towards this. Many women want to work, and this can bring about economic prosperity.”

MK Akram Hasoon (Kulanu) said, ”In the Jewish sector there are couples which cannot make ends meet with two salaries, and in our sector there is one salary (per household). It`s all politics. For instance, when they wanted to develop Yokneam they established an industrial zone, and now 10% of Israel`s hi-tech production comes from there. They did the same thing in Haredi areas they wanted to boost. We need serious plants that will [strengthen] the communities. We need industry, not workshops. There is no actual affirmative action. Once the Arab economy grows, so will the entire Israeli economy.”

Opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog (Zionist Camp) said, ”We could continue speaking but in the end it is all about budget, and we would want to see cash. We cannot be redundant and say that growth is caused by employment in the Arabic sector, and on the other hand not allocate all the relevant resources. In addition, money should be rightly allocated. For instance, large amounts of money were wrongly spent on female employment in the Arab sector, and we can witness the results accordingly.”

Labor, Welfare and Health Committee Chairman MK Elie Elalouf , a member of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon`s Kulanu party, suggested advancing the issue through his committee, as well as through his direct contact with Kahlon.

Elalouf said he does not believe in budget, but in a ”plan that is applicable.” MK Osama Sa`adi (Joint List) added, ”There is no doubt that industrial zones are a crucial for growth, and I assume that every mayor or head of council would want to have one. The test is in the implementation, cash flow and the employment of men and women in profitable occupations such as high-tech.”

Heads of local authorities from the Arabic sector who participated in the discussion spoke about harsh figures of unemployment – 70% of female and 15% male unemployment in some areas – due, in part, to the lack of industrial and trade zones. Some spoke about low levels of income, the lack of efficient incomes to the local authorities, and urged the government to practically budget and remove obstructions.

Reshef said in response that ”We should work on establishing joint industrial zones for several authorities, similar to the ones in the Jewish sector, which were successful. If we build an industrial zone in each authority it will not provide income from property taxes or growth, as there is not such a large demand for areas designated for factories. Today there is already a large supply of land for factories, more than is demanded by industrialists.”

MK Tibi fully supported Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) and said ”The committee calls on the government offices to implement a multi-year plan of employment and industrial areas in all Arab communities, and to budget the 12 administrations which will be established. We will hold a follow-up meeting and invite the Ministries of Finance and Economy, the Israel Land Authority and representatives from all the Arab authorities. The committee calls on the Ministry of Finance to significantly increase the budget for the development plan of the Arabic sector already in the 2017-2018 budget.”

In addition, Tibi announced that he will establish a team of MKs on behalf of the Ministry of Finance which will deal with this issue and monitor its implementations.