Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit said Tuesday he has instructed his office to look into the possibility of constructing a new Arab city in the Galilee.
During a visit to the Arab town of Umm al-Fahm, Sheetrit declared, "My goal is to establish a new Arab city in the Galilee. The plan is to build a modern city, in which young couples could buy an apartment and live."
The minister expressed hope that the issue would be brought for government approval before the end of the year.
Since the state's inception, no Arab city has been founded in Israel, nor has existing towns been expanded.
According to Sheetrit, his Ministry was examining "various alternatives" for the city's exact location.
Samir Hussein, head of the Dir Hanna Local Council, told Ynet that unlike other ministers before him, "Sheetrit is certainly capable of building an Arab city in the Galilee."
"I believe him and this sounds serious. This is a tremendously important step. I haven't heard of such a plan, but I'm sure it is feasible and that there are many places in the Galilee where such a city can be built quickly," he added.
'Develop existing communities as well'
"We have had enough of promises and hope for deeds – the Arab society yearns for a city – but will it be established? I doubt it," Balad chairman, Knesset Member Jamal Zahalka, told Ynet in response to Sheetrit's statement.
Arab officials welcomed the statement, but said that they wanted to see things actually taking place. Dr. Amal Jamal, head of the Department of Political Science at Tel Aviv University, said, "This is undoubtedly a good decision, but there were other ministers before Sheetrit who made similar declarations. I hope he does not plan to build this city instead of the neighborhoods he recommended to level in Gaza."
Dr. Jamal noted that the housing shortage was one of the most difficult problems faced by the Arab population in Israel.
"In addition to building a city, the interior minister should help develop the existing communities. He must approve plans and instruct all those involved to stop the discriminating policy banning Arabs from purchasing apartments in Arab cities."
Arab Knesset members were unanimous regarding the move's necessity.
"This is definitely a positive move, but we must first see the plan's details and examine whether they are talking about concrete blocks one on top of the other, or a defined area with planned infrastructures, employment places and cultural institutions, which deserve the name 'city', said Hadash chairman, MK Mohammad Barakeh.
MK Talab El-Sana (United Arab List-Ta'al) also welcomed the initiative, saying that since the State's inception 700 Jewish communities have been established and not one Arab community.
"I hope this is part of the government's new policy and not an elections slogan," he added.
Shawki Khatib, chairman of Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, said in response, "I welcome any new initiative, but would expect the State to also build communal towns for young couples from the Arab sector in the Galilee and the Negev, communities of high quality which will suit different segments of the population."
'Government has destroyed Zionism'
Minister Raleb Majadele said that the decision would increase the Arab public's feeling of belonging to the State. "The government has internalized that the Arab population has equal rights," he noted.
Right-wing MKs, on the other hand, criticized the interior minister's remarks.
"The government has completely destroyed Zionism," said MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu). According to Rotem, it is surprising that a government delaying and halting the construction in Jerusalem and the West Bank plans to build a new Arab city in the Galilee.
"It's outrageous that while the government freezes the construction in Judea and Samaria and in Jerusalem, and fails to approve any additional Jewish community, the interior minister approves the establishment of an Arab city in the north," said MK Nissan Slomiansky (National Religious Party).
"Then we hear claims about the Arabs being discriminated against and about the Galilee having no Jews. This is an irrational move and it should never have been approved," he added.
Sharon Roffe-Ofir, Attila Somfalvi and Amnon Meranda contributed to this report