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Israeli Arabs: Government Action in the Arab Sector

(February 2000)

On its establishment, the Barak Government determined that inequality relating to the Arab population was an issue of the highest priority. This policy has resulted from an awareness of growing inequality over recent years. The Government has taken action in two areas: in the first sphere, each government minister has chosen to take action within the scope of his or her ministry. A special emphasis may be placed on the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Internal Security and the Ministry of Industry and Trade.

A number of these Ministries have already implemented affirmative action policies. For example, the Ministry of Education committed itself to completing its five-year plan for Bedouin in the South within three years (instead of five, as originally planned). The Ministry also intends to establish a college for Arabs, to ensure that the departments allocate at least 25 per cent of funds from their budgets to Arab education (a higher proportion than that of Arabs living in Israel) and to establish ten cultural centers in Arab villages.

In the second sphere, the Government has established a Ministerial Committee concerning Arab citizens, headed by Minister Matan Vilnai. During its meeting on January 31, 2000, the Committee gave its approval to the organizational structure which will handle matters relating to Arabs in Israel:

  1. A Ministerial Committee

  2. A Subcommittee for Bedouin affairs. It will be headed by Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Haim Oron.

  3. A Subcommittee for Employment and Economic Development in the Arab Sector, headed by Minister for Industry and Trade, Mr. Ran Cohen.

  4. A Director Generals' Committee for Arab Sector Affairs, headed by the Director General of the Prime Minister's Office, Mr. Yossi Kuchik.

Upon the establishment of the Committee, Minister Vilnai stated that he "viewed the building of relations of trust and understanding with the Arab sector and the aspiration of reaching full equality as a strategic objective."

The Director Generals' Committee was assigned the responsibility of devising a program of action for the development and advancement of the Arab sector, and drawing up a cooperation framework involving the various government ministries. This program will include the raising of resources and promotion of investment, while applying an affirmative action policy in the areas of housing, employment, industry, transport, infrastructures, agriculture, and education in the non-Jewish sector.

The Subcommittee for Bedouin Affairs has been assigned the responsibility of dealing with various issues relating to the Bedouin sector, with particular reference to a settlement of territorial and compensation matters, the expansion of existing villages and an examination of the possibility of establishing new villages, the establishment of a center providing services for residents in the area and the formulation of a policy statement and an organized work program.

In addition, the Ministerial Committee dealing with Arab citizens has been operating in the following spheres:

  1. Local Authority Budgets - At the end of December 1999, Government representatives reached an agreement with the heads of the Arab local authorities, and brought to an end the protracted strike which had been a result of budgetary shortages. The Government committed itself to the establishment of a four-year affirmative action plan which would reduce the inequality affecting the Arab sector. Short-term plans were approved for resolving problems related to the regular budgets, the development budgets for the Arab Authorities and recovery programs for the covering of deficits.

  2. Illegal Construction - The Chairman of the Ministerial Committee, Matan Vilnai, declared that "the application of Israel's policy concerning illegal construction in the Arab sector has failed, and other solutions must be found". The Committee has requested that the Ministry of the Interior concentrate all decisions of previous governments concerning the application of the policy regarding illegal construction, and that it examines the monitoring methods used by the Ministry of the Interior, in order to revise the policy of the demolition of homes.

  3. Outline Plan - The Ministerial Committee decided that the updating of the outline plan for Arab villages will be completed within the next four years.

  4. Integration and Representation - The Ministerial Committee appointed the Head of the Qfar Manda Local Council and the Chairman of the Committee of the Heads of the Local Arab Councils, Mr. Mahmad Zidan, as the representative of the Arab population on the Committee. In addition, the Head of the Yafia Local Council, Mr. Shuki Khatib, was appointed as a representative of the Arab population to the Director Generals' Committee.

    The Ministerial Committee has assigned the Civil Service Commission to draw up a five-year program, in coordination with the Ministry of Finance and other institutions dealing with the issue, with the aim of increasing the proportion of employees from the non-Jewish sector in the Civil Service to 10 per cent (as opposed to 5 per cent today).

    The Committee also requested that the Government Organizations Authority present recommendations to the directors of the government organizations regarding the integration of workers from the Arab and Druze sector in their organizations, in order to increase significantly the number of employees from this sector, as a proportion of all the employees in government organizations. The Authority will submit a report on the matter to the Ministerial Committee, every six months.

    At the same time, the Minister of Justice, Dr. Yossi Beilin, announced that his Ministry is drafting a government bill regarding the appointment of Arabs as directors of public companies.

  5. Sites Holy to Islam and Christianity - The Ministerial Committee has assigned the Israel Lands Authority and the Ministry of Religious Affairs to take steps to preserve and safeguard Islamic and Christian sites that have been neglected (mosques, churches, graves and sacred tombs) and to submit a program of action in this regard.

Sources: Israeli Foreign Ministry