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Finance Ministry proposes oversight mechanism for funds to Arab towns

Localities, including predominantly Jewish ones, with higher levels of crime would undergo stricter supervision.

The Arab Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The Arab Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Israel’s Finance Ministry has outlined a proposed mechanism for ensuring that budgets allocated to Arab Israeli communities do not go to criminals or terrorists.

Under the proposal, the Israel Police, Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) and government ministries will categorize localities, including predominantly Jewish ones, according to the colors of a traffic light: areas where criminal elements are active will be designated as red and be closely supervised by law enforcement; areas with lower rates will be designated as yellow and will be partially supervised; and areas with little involvement of criminal elements will be designated as green and minimally supervised.

The agencies will also compile a list of persons involved in crime who will be prohibited from running for office or applying for civil service positions. 

The mechanism is to apply to all authorities, Arab and Jewish alike.

Municipalities designated as red will have a government entity in charge of overlooking their budgets; yellow localities will have a dedicated bank account with two authorized signatories (one on behalf of the Finance Ministry), with at-risk activities such as garbage collection and transportation to be funded after approval by an external authority; and green localities will enjoy an easy mechanism where funds will be provided through a bank transfer, without checks and cash, with electronic invoices and transparent tenders committees.

The development comes several weeks after Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich caused an uproar when he decided to withhold funds to Arab Israeli communities over security concerns.

Smotrich explained that the budgets “often go to criminal and terrorist organizations,” which dominate the bidding process for projects in Arab areas. “As you no doubt know, so far there is no mechanism in place to track these bids,” he said.

“Tenders for garbage removal, gardening, transportation, etc., which originate from the current authorities’ budgets, are carried out by the authorities themselves, and as mentioned, too often end up in the hands of terrorist [and] criminal actors,” said Smotrich. “That harms the personal security of all of us, Jews and Arabs alike, depresses the economy in Arab society and deepens corruption.”

The finance minister also argued that the money was a kind of payout by the previous government to satisfy its coalition partner Mansour Abbas, chairman of Ra’am (United Arab List) Party, who sought to “bribe his voters in Arab society.”

“There are more urgent and important needs than continuing to transfer political funds for the Ra’am Party,” Smotrich said.

On Sunday evening, Smotrich said he would release funds earmarked for Arab municipalities, totaling 200 million shekels (~$53 million), under the oversight mechanism.

Smotrich made the announcement at the end of a five-hour meeting with the leaders of 13 Arab municipalities, the director of the Shin Bet and the interior minister.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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