Challenges to GR-550 Spark Concerns for Arab Society
Challenges to GR-550 Spark Concerns for Arab Society
On Photo: GR-550 Allocation Graph. Background, Eduard Marmet, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
In mid-July, GR-550, the five-year socio-economic development plan for Arab society passed in 2021, was targeted by government ministers seeking to reevaluate the plan and to redirect funds from its budgets. These moves reinforce concerns raised by coalition parties’ campaigns, government coalition agreements, and recent legislation proposals that this government seeks to change the policy established over the last 15 years promoting socio-economic development for Arab society.
On July 18, Ministers Itamar Ben Gvir and Yitzhak Wasserlauf, petitioned the government to establish a new committee to re-evaluate GR-550. “It is inconceivable that a right-wing government will continue to implement the coalition agreements that the previous government made with the Islamic Brotherhood and their representatives”, the petition states, “rather than to change and fix this decision that allocates unprecedented budgets and powers to anti-Zionist elements.” Further objections cited in the petition are that the plan requires some ministries to allocate 30% of their budget to Arab society, above proportional representation; that it discriminates against Jews in the periphery—especially in the area of housing benefits; and that it limits the independence of government ministries who must comply with and report to a steering committee enforcing policies set by the prior government.
On July 17th, Kan public broadcasting reported that Finance Minister Bezalel Smotritch ordered NIS 130 from GR-550 to be used to cover gaps in funding for stipends for full-time yeshiva students. The funds reportedly would be drawn from Ministry of Interior budgets for Arab local authorities. The combined efforts of the Arab society's leadership, local government, and civil society caused the government to withdraw its plan to cut the funds.
On Photo: Highway 65 from Tel Aviv to Afula.
Coalition agreements signed in December 2022 included intentions to redirect some GR-550 budgets and to reevaluate the plan. However, in May the state budget passed by the Knesset for 2023-2024 retained the approved plan nearly intact, save for a major reduction in commitments to improve transportation infrastructure. While organizations monitoring budget implementation are concerned about slow-downs and new difficulties due to changes in government Ministries, these two moves are the most formal challenge to GR-550 to date. Other threats to the plan have been less explicit, yet no less concerning:
Approximately NIS 1.5B reduction: Article 94 of the coalition agreements canceled the obligation of the Ministry of the Negev and Galilee under GR-550 to allocate 30% of its 2023-2026 budget designated for local authorities to Arab municipalities. Rather, it capped the Ministry’s requirement at NIS 103 million (30% per the 2022 budget), while another clause of the coalition agreements increases the Ministry’s overall budget 6.5 times to NIS 2 billion. The same article also revokes allocate of 7% of the Ministry of the Negev and the Galilee's overall budget to the Bedouin authorities will be revoked, according to the Israel Democracy Institute. If the commitments to 30% and 7% had been retained, the allocation for Arab local authorities would have totaled approximately NIS 1.5 billion.
Transportation: GR-550 included a NIS 2 billion commitment to improve transportation infrastructure for Arab communities that was cut to NIS 1 billion over two years. In addition, a budget for upgrading Route 65 in the Wadi Ara section has also been redirected to other areas of the road. Leaders including Um Al Fahm Mayor Samir Mahamid stated that “[the delay in the budget is an example of] the process of excluding Arab society from everything that happens inside the country.” Roi Barak adds: “this will seriously harm employment opportunities, acquisition of education and access to essential services."
These examples do not reference budgets for prevention of crime and violence in Arab society, as these were allocated via a separate Government Resolution, GR-549. Those diversions are discussed in more detail in this post.
Various stakeholder, including the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, local authorities and civil society organizations, have strongly condemned any attempts to interfere with GR-550 funds. They emphasize that Arab society, along with its governing bodies, has long suffered from chronic underfunding severely impeding their ability to provide essential and high-quality services to Arab resident.
MK Iman Khatib Yassin (Ra'am—United Arab List), stated, “This [the NIS 130 million budget] was given rightfully1, not at the expense of someone else. This is money that was allocated to the Arabs for critical issues, whether it is education, welfare, or crime and violence. Six months and 124 people murdered; it's always claimed that there are no resources, and when there are resources, they're taken away."
Columnist Nadin Abu Laban argues that the prospect of revoking GR-550, stems from "racism, a considerable amount of cynicism and political interests... From his [Ben Gvir’s] perspective, the advancement of Arab citizens represents a threat... He sees Arab individuals who excel in Hebrew language, achieve, and experience financial success as potential opponents who can resist his policies. Therefore, he prefers to keep them marginalized and inferior, ensuring his own sense of superiority."
These statements highlight the mounting apprehensions surrounding the future of Arab society in Israel. Whether the intention of current moves is to dismantle GR-550, or incite tensions, neither bode well for Arab aspirations for social and economic equality. The National Committee of the Heads of Arab Localities (NCALC) has compiled an extensive list of additional budget cuts across several ministries and relevant government actions implemented since the beginning of the year. It includes significant reductions in infrastructure budgets, delays in legislating regulations, lack of budget allocation for welfare and industrial development, and low funding for various initiatives in Arab communities.
1 It is important to note that the directives in GR-550 under question in the petition, proportionally allocated between 30% to 37% of the budgets of the Negev and Galilee Ministry to the Arab and Bedouin population representing about one-third of the residents in the Negev and over half in the Galilee.