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President Rivlin, ministers, local leaders meet to boost plan for Arab communities

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin hosted a meeting including Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, dozens of Arab local council heads and community leaders, in order to further discuss implementing an ambitious five-year plan worth £2.5 billion, which will boost housing, education, employment, infrastructure and transportation in Israel’s minority Arab communities.

Israel’s Arab population, which includes Muslims, Christians, Druze and Circassian communities, comprise almost one quarter of Israel’s overall population. However, services within these communities have suffered from a lack of funds and support. In December, following several months of detailed consultations with Arab community representatives, the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ministers Kahlon and Gamliel announced the plan to narrow gaps. It includes more than £200 million towards housing in Arab municipalities and a similar sum for local authorities in these areas to improve infrastructure.

At yesterday’s meeting, the key points and goals of the five year plan were presented in detail, followed by round-table discussions. Rivlin called the plan “one of the most important decisions – both practically and symbolically – that any Israeli government has made.” However, he warned that “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 … We must not fail. We do not have the privilege of failure.”

Gamliel said that, “This is an important, historic step on the way to closing the gaps, and to the advancement of social equality in Israel,” while Chairman of the Committee of Local Councils, Mazan Ganaim commented “This five year project is a good program, and we must implement it.”

However, there was a controversial note when Arab MK Jamal Zahalka, who recently outraged many Israeli leaders by meeting the families of Palestinian terrorists who killed Israelis, observing a moment of silence in their memory, was told he could not attend after he requested to do so just hours before the event.