The prospect of budgets for Arab cities ends in a coalition crisis

Just three days after resigning from the coalition to protest its right -wing change and “tough stance” on issues critical for Arab society, MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi rejoined the political alliance on Sunday, thanks to pressure from Arab society and in exchange for the government’s commitment. to release funds for Arab towns.

On Thursday, Rinawie Zoabi shocked the coalition, including his own Meretz party, by announcing his departure, which resulted in the loss of the coalition’s majority, which then had only 59 seats in the Knesset, from 120.

His return was quickly announced after a meeting on Sunday with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and several Arab municipal leaders. While Lapid and Rinawie Zoabi declined to elaborate on the agreements, some mayors present at the meeting said Israel period that they hope that “hundreds of millions” of shekels of frozen funds will be released for Arab municipalities.

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“There will soon be a vote in the Ministry of Finance to distribute this money. We are talking about the hundreds of millions of shekels here that they have to set aside, ”Kafr Kanna Mayor Izz al-Din Amarna said.

Throughout the meeting with Lapid, the mayors demanded that the government expedite the disbursement of funds, he added.

The money, said Kfar Manda Mayor Ali Khader Zidan, is not a new allocation but part of a budgeted five-year plan to reduce inequality between Arab and Jewish towns.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met with MK Meretz Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on May 22, 2022. (Credit: Oz Avital)

“It’s not about budgets that were agreed upon, it’s about budgets that were promised in coalition negotiations and never moved,” Zidan said. “So we need to plan how the money will be distributed. »

As part of the coalition’s negotiations with the Islamist party Raam, significant budgets were obtained to tackle infrastructure, crime and socio-economic problems in Arab towns. However, most of the money has not yet been transferred to the treasury.

Many ministries have a role to play in the release of funds, and Amir Besharat, a senior adviser to the National Council of Arab Mayors, blamed offices controlled by the coalition’s right -wing, such as the interior minister, for obstructing process.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked-a member of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party-has repeatedly debated with Raam over legislation and budgets for Arab communities.

“Mansour Abbas, the leader of Raam, got the funding. But these ministries still have the same racist policy on the Palestinian minority in Israel, ”Besharat said.

Zidan also denounced the “negligence” of Arab towns.

“Arab society has been neglected as if it were not part of society [israélienne] said Zidan, adding that Arab municipalities “don’t [recevaient] not as much money as the Jews ”.

Financing of Arab communities has become a “right wing” topic. Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, a former Likud prime minister, has repeatedly attacked coalition leaders over the values ​​allocated to Arab communities and issues.

Opposition leader and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu presides over a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 16, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“Bennett and Lapid are willing to do anything to stay in power and for that they are pouring huge amounts of your taxpayers’ money into the enemies of Israel and the supporters of terrorism on which their government depends,” he said. Netanyahu charged on Sunday video statement released shortly after the Lapid-Zoabi meeting.

“They already paid 50 billion shekels to Abbas, last week they paid 200 million shekels to [Ahmad] Tibi for a road he asked for, and now they have paid Zoabi hundreds of millions, ”said the Likud chief, who said Rinawie Zoabi had secured new funds.

The prime minister’s Yamina party, which continues to be criticized by its base and opposition parties for being inadequate right-wing, was quick to respond that no “new funds have been promised to MP Rinawie Zoabi”. Yamina confirmed that “what we discussed with MP Rinawie Zoabi was the removal of barriers to the existing allocations of the five-year plan approved by the government within the current budget. »

Despite their frustration with some elements of the current government, many Arab leaders have pressured Rinawie Zoabi to keep the coalition. If it collapses, Netanyahu and his right -wing allies could return a right -wing government to power, an alternative they prefer to avoid.

“We asked him not to leave the coalition. We told him we were not interested in overthrowing this government. We pressured him and he reversed his decision, ”Amarna said, adding that the pressure exerted by Arab mayors had been decisive to keep Rinawie Zoabi in the coalition.

Shortly after the announcement of the defector’s short-term removal, a campaign took place on Arabic-language social networks asking him not to “break” the government, which ended with protesters outside his home. of Nof Hagalil on Saturday night. To add to the pressure, on Friday Abbas met with Rinawie Zoabi to urge him not to resign.

Citing his resentment at the right-wing change of the coalition and the behavior of Israeli police on Temple Mount and at the recent funeral of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, Rinawie Zoabi has temporarily ruled out the possibility of a fifth round of elections. in favor of a right-wing government, the coalition. once the majority is gone.

Unlike Yamina MK Idit Silman-who left the coalition last month complaining that it was not in line with her Jews and called right-wing values-Rinawie Zoabi has yet to find anyone to join the right-wing opposition .

Aaron Boxerman contributed to this article.

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