All in Favor / In the Galilee on the Moon

The recent announcement by Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit (Kadima) concerning his intention to build a new Arab city aroused a deep sense of deja vu in MK Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor), the current chair of the Knesset Interior Committee and the interior minister until two years ago.

You can take Sheetrit's announcement, Pines-Paz said at last week's committee's meeting, replace his name with Pines-Paz, "and get my announcement from two-and-a-half years ago. Since then nothing has happened."

After 60 years in which the State of Israel has not built a single Arab city in the Galilee or the Triangle region, it is no wonder that MK Hana Sweid (Hadash) told the committee meeting that "maybe an Arab city will be built on the moon."

During the Knesset plenum's discussion of seven motions for the agenda regarding the new Arab city plan last week, Sheetrit responded by vowing that "the Arab city will not be built on the moon but rather in the Galilee. I know there have been Interior Ministry officials who undermined the move," Sheetrit confirmed Pines-Paz's suspicions, "and I say to the officials [that] as minister, I am responsible for setting policy."

Sheetrit pledged to bring a proposal for a cabinet decision this year on building the new Arab city, following which a planning team will be set up. He explained that the Arab city is vital for young Arabs whose parents do not own land, and for young people who wish to escape the stifling rural environment. Sheetrit did not cite the name of the designated city, but he did say that "if it is up to me, we'll call it by an Israeli name."

The minister's plenum statements failed to remove the sense that light years separate us from the new Arab city. Nor did they resolve the severe embarrassment created at last week's Interior Committee meeting, when two senior government officials gave contradictory versions regarding planning for the city.

Shamai Asif, the Interior Ministry's head of planning directorate, told the lawmakers that no available space has been located for the Arab city, there is no timetable, nor even a decision as to who will be handling the matter. "Thousands of dunams are required," Asif said. "The State of Israel is crowded and its mosaic is full." Naturally, Asif's words strengthened the feeling that the only address remaining is the moon.

However, the official in charge of urban planning and construction at the Housing and Construction Ministry, Ilan Teichman, said that his office has been moving ahead for five years on plans to build an Arab city in the Galilee south of Jadida Makar (in the Acre region). Some 7,000 apartments are to be built in the new city, and the northern district committee has already discussed the plan in preparation for filing it.

Jadida Makar has a striking advantage. It is not on the moon. But Shamai Asif dismissed it as "not anything new," and claimed there are similar plans to expand communities.