(Doron Horowitz/Flash90)

Israel’s cabinet approved a new plan for the economic development of the country’s Arab population contingent on an end to illegal construction.

Israel on Wednesday approved a reported three billion-dollar budget meant to improve the living conditions of its Arab citizens.

The government did not release the exact amount involved, but it is estimated between 10 and 15 billion shekels ($2.5 billion to $3.8 billion) to be allocated over four to five years.

Israel’s Arabs make up 20 percent of the country’s 8.4 million population.

“This is a significant addition designed to assist minority populations and reduce gaps,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated. “The plan will lead to the end of close-to-the-ground construction and a transition to high-rise construction as exists throughout the country. At the same time, the plan will strengthen law enforcement in the minority sector with emphasis on illegal construction.”

According to Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, “This is an important and historic step on the way to reducing gaps and advancing social equality in Israel. The plan…is very comprehensive and relates to all aspects of life for Israel’s Arab citizens and local authorities. This is dramatic news; for the first time, the Government of Israel is changing the allocation mechanisms in government ministries so that Israel’s Arab citizens will receive their relative share in the state budget. This is a broad and balanced plan that provides an immediate answer for the local authorities to improve the lives of their residents and, at the same time, significantly contributes to the education, transportation, employment and housing infrastructures that will constitute an extensive cushion for economic growth and a genuine reduction of gaps.”

Arab legislators cautiously welcomed the initiative – proposed by Netanyahu, Gamliel and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon – but said it falls short of fully addressing the community’s needs.

A Step in the Right Direction

Yousef Jabareen, an Arab member of Israel’s parliament, acknowledged that the plan was a step in “the right direction.” Arab lawmakers had lobbied for an investment twice as large as the amount reportedly approved, he said.

President Reuven Rivlin hailed the deal as a “brave and significant decision” and “an important, and vital step on the road to closing the gaps which have existed for years.”

“The transfer of funds to the Arab sector is conditional on the cessation of illegal building,” Netanyahu’s Likud party stated.

By: Terri Nir, United with Israel
(With files from AP)