The resignation this week of Alexander Blei as adviser to the prime minister on Arab affairs – a move encouraged by the premier – marks a historic change in the treatment of Israel’s Arab population.
For the first time in the history of the state, neither an Arab affairs adviser nor a single minister will be in charge of the 700,000 Arab citizens living within Israel’s pre-1967 borders. The Arabs will be on their own.
The office of Arab affairs adviser was established in the early days of the state, to serve as a liaison between the Arab sector and the government, particularly during the era when the Arab citizens of Israel lived under military rule.
Those days are long since gone. The military government in the Arab population centers in Israel was abolished in 1966 – but the adviser’s position remained.
Despite their good intentions, there was little most of the officials who served in this capacity could do; they had neither adequate budgets nor the clout to come up with more funding.
Under the new arrangement, the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office will chair a committee of director-generals, representing all government ministries, to deal with issues that arise in the Arab sector.
The change came about at the request of Arab Knesset members, who argued that if the government aspired to count them as equal citizens, they should be treated by the same official agencies as the rest of the population.
The first task of the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office in his new capacity was to put an end this week to the 10-day sit-in strike of Arab mayors in Jerusalem. The mayors demanded increased budgets for their towns and villages.
After a meeting with Premier Yitzhak Rabin, they were persuaded to go home, with less money than they had wanted – but with a new address to turn to in Jerusalem.