Israeli cabinet approves NIS 2b for East Jerusalem Arabs

Jerusalem Arabs Photo: Shutterstock

The five-year program is designed to improve education, encourage employment, and upgrade transportation for East Jerusalem's Arabs.

A comprehensive five-year plan for narrowing economic and social gaps in East Jerusalem was approved by the Israeli cabinet today. The NIS 2 billion plan is designed to help Arab residents of East Jerusalem integrate in Israel's society and economy. The plan includes allocations for improving transportation, education, employment, welfare, and health.

The new five-year plan continues the current plan that finishes at the end of the year. The new plan allocates considerably more money than the old plan in which only NIS 150 million was actually used. The budget for the new plan includes NIS 850 million from government ministries, NIS 950 million in additional allocations from the Ministry of Finance, and NIS 200 million that the Jerusalem municipality has undertaken to pay for.

The Ministry of Finance budget division prepared the new plan in cooperation with the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage and professional personnel, with the Jerusalem municipality fulfilling an operational role. 332,000 Arabs live in East Jerusalem. The plan does not refer to the 80,000 residents living in Jerusalem's jurisdiction in Kfar Aqab and the Shuafat refugee camp, which lie beyond the security fence.

According to figures from the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research appearing in the proposal before the cabinet, there is a wide poverty gap between the Arab and Jewish populations in Jerusalem. 75% of the Arabs lived in poverty in 2016, compared with 29% of the Jews. 52% of all the Arabs in Israel are below the poverty line.

NIS 445 million will be invested in education over the coming five years, with nearly half of this amount being invested in informal education in East Jerusalem, mainly in a long school day or enrichment lessons in schools. Nearly NIS 200 million will be injected into educational institutions teaching the Israeli curriculum (for physical development and renting buildings for institutions and advising and developing special programs.

Introducing the Israeli matriculation program is one of the main emphases in the new program. The alternative is the outdated Jordanian matriculation program, which is unsuitable for studying at academic institutions in Israel and makes integration into the labor market difficult. The Jerusalem municipality says that less than 7% of the 109,000 children aged 6-18 in East Jerusalem are studying for Israeli matriculation, while the rest are studying for Jordanian matriculation. East Jerusalem lacks 1,900 classrooms. More than 95% of the students lack fluency in Hebrew, and the dropout rate in 22%.

Sources involved in preparing the plan said that the budgets in the new program were large enough to change the educational system. The Council for Higher Education and the Planning and Budgeting Committee will consider allocating money for doubling the number of university students in East Jerusalem from 250,000-300,000 to 500,000 a year. If it is decided to go ahead with this, the Planning and Budget Committee will allocate NIS 170 million for the purpose and the Ministry of Finance will add NIS 90 million.

In transportation, a team will be assembled headed by the Ministry of Transport director general and will recommend specific projects for investment and timetables for carrying them out. NIS 500 million will be invested in improving transportation infrastructure in East Jerusalem, with half of the amount being allocated to detailed planning of the "American road." A pilot for public transportation lines connecting East Jerusalem to West Jerusalem will begin this year. It is being proposed to invest NIS 1.5 billion in upgrading transportation infrastructure by 2027.

In health, the plan will attempt to provide incentives for the health funds to open clinics in East Jerusalem, where their branches are currently run by franchise holders. One of the most ambitious (and politically controversial) goals of the plan is regulating land registration in East Jerusalem. The plan aims to complete registration of the land within seven years. As of now, in the absence of land registration in East Jerusalem (except for small areas in northeast Jerusalem), land ownership disputes are settled by arbitration, or sometimes by force. Planning authorities estimate that 40% of construction in East Jerusalem is illegal.

In employment, the plan aims to improve the employment situation among women in East Jerusalem, whose current employment rate is only 22%, compared with 35% of women aged 25-64 in the Israeli Arab sector. Hebrew studies will be expanded for this purpose, and a budget will be provided for an employment center in the central business district capable of handling 1,500 applicants a year, compared with 3,000 in the corresponding center for the haredi (Jewish ultra-Orthodox) population in the city. The number of daycare centers will also be increased, the occupational school for girls in East Jerusalem will be expanded, and welfare programs in East Jerusalem will be extended. In addition to encouraging the employment of women, preventing dropping out and high-risk situations among children and young people and getting them out of poverty will be emphasized. The state will also invest money in developing parks, children's facilities, and sports facilities and in improving drainage and sewage infrastructure.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on May 13, 2018

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2018

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Jerusalem Arabs Photo: Shutterstock
Jerusalem Arabs Photo: Shutterstock
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