The Arab community of Arabeh, in the Galilee, is to become a city after Interior Minister Arye Dery signed the order on Thursday. The Interior Ministry said Dery had accepted the recommendation of a public committee that was established a year ago to review Arabeh’s official status. The panel recommended upgrading it from a local council to a city.
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Arabeh has a population of 25,000.
“I am happy that one of my first decisions as interior minister is turning Arabeh into a city. This decision is important to Arab society in Israel and to strengthening the integration into Israeli society,” Dery said in a statement. The decision was reached after the local authority succeeded in keeping its budget balanced for a period of several years properly for years, he said, adding that the collection rate for property taxes in the community (arnona) is high.
“I hope the city of Arabeh will continue to strengthen and develop on behalf of its residents, and to strengthen the ties between Jews and Arabs in Israel,” said Dery.
Dery’s predecessor at the Interior Ministry, Silvan Shalom, was to have made the change himself, before he resigned in late December. Dery became interior minister on January 11, just three days before issuing the announcement about Arabeh.
Arabeh Mayor Ali Asala told Haaretz that the change should benefit residents. He added that one of the major items on the new city’s agenda is to expand its borders. “We are very pleased about the decision and hope it will be translated into budgets and resources, too,” he added.
Despite the controversy over Dery’s return to the Interior Ministry, there is support for him in local governments in Arab communities. Figures in local authorities have said that in his previous terms as interior minister, from 1988 to 1992 and in 1993, and earlier as director general of the ministry, Dery helped Arab communities.
The governments in Arab communities in Israel are waiting in anticipation for the government to follow through with a plan to add some 600 million shekels ($1.5 billion) to their collective budgets in 2016.
The decision to make Arabeh a city came only a few days after Dery extended the order banning the head of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Sheikh Ra’ad Salah, from leaving the country. Sources close to Dery said there was no connection between the two decisions, and the decision to extend the order in Salah’s case came at the request of security authorities.