Two and a half years after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he would allocate hundreds of millions of shekels for rehabilitation of south Tel Aviv, on Sunday the cabinet approved a plan to distribute 20 million shekels ($6 million) to eight “national priority” areas that are home to large numbers of asylum-seekers. South Tel Aviv is to receive 7.75 million shekels, 38 percent of the total budget. Netanya will get 2.85 million shekels, Bnei Brak 2.5 million and Petah Tikva 3 million.
“I know the residents in these places waited a long time for this decision, I’m pleased it is now happening,” Netanyahu said.
In April 2018, Netanyahu announced an agreement with the UN Refugee Agency for 16,000 asylum-seekers to be resettled in Western countries, and said the “hundreds of millions of shekels” saved would be invested in rehabilitating south Tel Aviv and spreading the remaining asylum seekers throughout the country. But within 24 hours, under pressure from right-wing activists, Netanyahu reneged on the agreement.
Three months later, the cabinet approved the allocation of 28 million shekels to areas with a high concentration of asylum-seekers, migrant workers and foreign workers. The money was designated for socioeconomic assistance to needy families, educational reinforcement, boosting community health services and more.
The Tel Aviv municipality promised to provide matching funds for the money received for this purpose. The Housing and Interior Ministries established a committee tasked with determining which areas would be defined as having “national priority” based on the number of asylum-seekers there.
In February 2019, when the funds were still stuck due to disputes over the criteria for their distribution, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai wrote to Netanyahu, “Promises must be kept and decisions implemented. Our residents have had their fill of broken promises and unfulfilled decisions.”
The criteria that were eventually agreed to be the amount of asylum-seekers in the local authority, the amount of veteran residents and the ratio between the two. Then-Housing Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton sought to convene the Finance Committee to approve the budgeting. But the committee refused to convene, saying that proper procedure was not followed and the necessary approvals were not received.
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A few months ago, Likud MK May Golan began working to get the decision passed anew, with several changes. In the new plan, the total investment was reduced to 20 million shekels to be allocated from the continuous budget. The Finance Committee approved the criteria last month and now an inter-ministerial committee will be established to work on detailed plans for projects that will make use of the funds.
The decision says the funds are to be used for building and renovating public buildings and upgrading infrastructure in public spaces and open areas. The goal is “to improve the lives of the local residents and boost the economic and social resilience of these areas, strengthening their image to promote an influx of economically stable families.”