Netanyahu government backs plan to invest 2 billion shekels in Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods

Housing, infrastructure, educational and health facilities among the budgeted items to improve life for the capital’s Arab residents.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The Israeli cabinet on Sunday afternoon passed a new five-year plan to invest some NIS 2 billion in the eastern half of Jerusalem in order to improve the lives of its Arab residents, according to a report in Walla News.

The plan will affect several basic quality-of-life areas: improving basic infrastructure such as roads, public transportation, water, sewage and electricity provision, developing employment possibilities, and building additional educational, cultural, sports and health facilities.

A large portion of the money – NIS 300 million each from the finance and education ministries and NIS 200 million from the Jerusalem municipality – will go towards improving the quality of education in the city’s Arab schools. This includes more funding for the teaching of the Hebrew language and incentives for educational institutions that teach the Israeli curriculum rather than the Palestinian or even the Jordanian one.

These curricula are problematic in several ways, including their inclusion of anti-Israel material, and the poor instruction in Hebrew, which goes hand-in-hand with preparation for the Palestinian matriculation exams rather than the Israeli ones. The former encourages Palestinian radicalism and the latter prevents many Arabs from attending Israeli universities or forces them to take a preliminary year of studies first in order to make up the gaps in learning.

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Last year, the Jerusalem and Heritage Ministry reported that just over half (51%) of official schools in eastern Jerusalem taught according to the Israeli curriculum. This was a sharp jump of 34% that took place over the course of the previous five-year plan, that had also been initiated by a Likud-led government with a similar amount of funding in many of the same areas as the current plan.

There are still many Arab schools in the capital that are “recognized” but “unofficial,” much like in the haredi Jewish educational system, so the overall percentage of schools teaching the Israeli curriculum is not as encouraging as the report might suggest.

The cabinet held its weekly meeting in the tunnels that run under the Western Wall that dip in points to the bedrock of the Temple Mount, to emphasize the importance of Jerusalem immediately following Thursday’s celebration of the capital’s reunification in 1967’s Six Day War.

When the previous plan was announced in 2018, various ministers said that the thinking was that the right-wing’s oft-repeated claim that Jerusalem is – and must remain – united under Israeli sovereignty should be backed by providing a more equitable amount of resources for its Arab residents. Nationalist Palestinians said they saw it as another way that Israel was “forcing its control” over Jerusalem.

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The five-year plan is an extension of the government’s five-year-old plan, the “929 Decision,” first passed in 2015 to invest billions of shekels in Israel’s Arab sector.

After expiring in 2020, Yamina and Yesh Atid guaranteed to extend the program, as part of their coalition agreements with the United Arab List (Ra’am) – drawing criticism from then-Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu.