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An Israeli classroom. Photo by Dan Keinan
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called a meeting with the finance and interior ministers and the Union of Local Authorities late Saturday, in an eleventh-hour effort to prevent the largest ever strike by Israeli cities' local authorities, due to begin Sunday morning.

All of Israel's local authorities are expected to begin the open-ended strike Sunday except Jerusalem, Haifa and the Haifa suburb of Nesher. The action would take place despite efforts to head it off on Friday at a meeting between the ULA and the interior and finance ministers.

In the negotiations, treasury officials accused ULA chairman Shlomo Buhbut of wanting to strike at all costs. For their part, the ULA blames Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz for not meeting any of their demands regarding education funding, social welfare funding, equalization payments to municipalities with revenue shortfalls and water rates.

The Education Ministry called on schools to open on Sunday despite the strike, and teachers' unions instructed teachers to report to work. At elementary schools, teachers are state employees, but many junior-high and high school teachers are employed by local authorities.

School security guards are also employed by local authorities and the Teachers' Union reported Saturday that the police have instructed schools to provide guards despite the strike. The union, which represents mostly elementary school teachers, said if guards are not provided, classes will not be held. Regional council staff will be joining the strike but will keeping the school systems in their communities open. For the first time, special education operations at the local authorities will be halted.

The labor action will shut down municipal services such as garbage collection, offices that normally receive members of the public, social welfare services, including social workers' services, clubs for children and the elderly, as well as veterinary services and the issuing of parking tickets. Fire and rescue services will operate on a reduced footing but will still respond to fires and provide rescue services. Day care centers run by organizations such as Na'amat and WIZO will operate normally.

Local authorities contend that the state has increased the financial burden created by services they are required to provide, but has cut funding to local authorities. Local officials said education and welfare allocations have been cut by about NIS 500 million and that the NIS 2.4 billion received in state equalization payments should be increased to NIS 3 billion.

ULA chairman Buhbut said in effect the local authorities are subsidizing the state "and are near collapse and on the day we collapse, the State of Israel will collapse." He said the strike was the largest ever held by Israeli cities, adding: "we are fighting for the quality of the education our children will receive, over the price of water, which has tripled to the consumer over the past three years without any justification and over the budgets of the authorities."