Dispute Over Connecting Unrecognized Arab Homes to Electricity Threatens Israeli Coalition

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Walid Taha speaking in the Knesset, in December,
Walid Taha speaking in the Knesset, in December,Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

A bill that would enable predominantly Arab homes built without permits to be connected to the electrical grid has sparked a fierce disagreement between the United Arab List and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, threatening the stability of Israel's governing coalition.

Walid Taha, a member of the UAL and chairman of the Knesset Interior Committee, announced Monday that he had cancelled all scheduled meetings for the coming week in protest of Shaked's opposition to the bill.

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Taha told Haaretz that Shaked is "hostile to the law and has tried from the outset to thwart it." He demanded that she be stripped of her authority to advance the bill and that it be passed in a quick procedure.

In response to a question from Likud lawmaker Yariv Levin, Shaked said last week in the Knesset that "The electricity bill does not refer at all to [unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev] … There is no reference to hooking the Negev up to electricity, there is only reference to general plans in places where the local government wants to [legalize existing infrastructure.]"

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, in October.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Shaked went on to say that "those who wants to fix up their homes and connect them to electricity has to pay a great deal of money, something like 200,000 shekels ($63,000), and for those reasons the law has existed since 2014  and has rarely been used."

Her comments sparked tremendous outrage among the United Arab List, who view the law as a flagship issue for their voters, primarily Arab communities in the south. They denied Shaked's claim that connecting homes to the grid would cost that much money. 

The director of the UAL's diplomatic wing, Ibrahim Hijazi, said Monday on Radio A-Shams that the party's goal is to pressure the government and noted that they will not allow a vote on the electricity bill to take place. "This law and others were postponed in order to continue the discussions. Ayelet Shaked is making pathetic declarations, and is working to empty the law of its content, and we won't allow that."

Regarding the possibility of the UAL leaving the government, Hijazi said "What options do we have? Taking down the coalition and bringing back [former Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu?"

"We have enough tools to deal [with the problem] and apply pressure...we have power in the coalition and chairmanship of the Interior Committee, and we will use this power and these tools, we won't give up on them easily, we won't support laws that will harm the Arab community, including the Citizenship Law."

The energy grid bill passed its first vote earlier this month before going back to committee and passing its second and third votes, becoming a law.

Besides the electricity bill, the committee was supposed to discuss a bill by Shaked for the development of the town of Harish.

This is not the first time that the UAL has protested Shaked's conduct. During discussions on the Arrangements Laws and the budget in October, Taha cancelled Interior Committee meetings in protest over the coalition not advancing the electricity bill.

Shaked did not respond to requests for comment.

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