JERUSALEM—Israel on Wednesday approved a reported billion-dollar budget meant to improve the living conditions of its Arab citizens, who have long suffered discrimination and are among the country’s poorest residents.
The government did not release the exact amount approved, but Israeli media reported it was between 10 and 15 billion shekels ($2.5 billion to $3.8 billion), to be spread over four to five years. It will be devoted to education, transportation, housing, culture, sports and other areas.
Israel’s Arabs make up a fifth of the country’s 8.4 million population, but have long complained of unfair treatment in areas such as housing and employment opportunities.
“This is a significant addition meant to assist minority populations and to reduce gaps,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.
Experts have long warned that Israel’s long-term economic health is at risk so long as it doesn’t improve the economic standing of its Arab citizens, one of the country’s fastest growing populations.
Arab legislators cautiously welcomed the initiative, but said it falls short of fully addressing the community’s needs.
Yousef Jabareen, an Arab member of Israel’s parliament, said the plan was a step in “the right direction.” But he said “it does not address all the socio-economic needs of the community and falls short of bridging the historical gaps between Jews and Arabs in Israel.” He said Arab lawmakers had lobbied for an investment twice as large as the amount reportedly approved.
The budget approval comes amid an outburst of violence that has killed 21 Israelis and more than 130 Palestinians, including 89 said by Israel to be assailants.