Israel's Coalition Faces Standoff Over Connecting Unrecognized Arab Homes to Electricity

Interior minister delays legislation allowing Arab homes built without permits to be connected to the electrical grid, prompting lawmaker Walid Taha to freeze deliberations on key bill

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Walid Taha and UAL leader Mansour Abbas, in April.
Walid Taha and UAL leader Mansour Abbas, in April.Credit: Noam Moshkovitz

A United Arab List lawmaker froze deliberations on key legislation after Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked delayed legislation that would allow houses built without permits to be connected to the electrical grid.

Lawmakers were scheduled to discuss the Arrangements Law on Wednesday and Thursday. The Arrangements Law accompanies the state budget, and Knesset Interior Committee Chairman Walid Taha's decision to suspend deliberations could endanger the coalition's ability to pass a budget – a key promise made by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

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Taha tweeted on Tuesday that he had suspended debate on the Arrangements Law because some coalition partners were creating difficulties in advancing the electricity legislation.

“We’ve reached a crossroads – either agreements are respected in their entirety, or we’ll go to elections,” he said. “Electricity is a basic need, but the government is preventing tens of thousands of houses from being connected to power because it hasn’t bothered to provide planning for Arab communities over the decades.”

Ayelet Shaked at the Knesset in July.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The legislation on electrical hookups is regarded by UAL as one of the most important for its voter base, and it has sought to speed up its passage.

An explanatory note to the bill explains, “Many towns in Israel – most of them Arab – have suffered for years from an absence of planning, creating a situation where their residents are unable to get building permits and, as a result, cannot be connected to electricity, water and telephone networks. In the majority of cases, residents are eventually connected illegally.”

The bill aims to ensure that electrical hookups are done legally and safely, in line with the standards set by the Israel Electric Corporation. “The proposed legislation will provide a solution for thousands of homes, built without permits and with no connection to existing infrastructure … appropriate to Israel in 2021,” the note says.

A statement released by the UAL in Arabic said there was no justifiable reason for electricity legislation to be delayed, saying it had already been stopped once in the past and amended and that its current wording was acceptable to all members of the coalition.

“We see no reason to delay submitting the law this week,” the statement said. “Either houses are going to be connected to electricity or we will freeze the coalition’s agenda until a solution is reached.”

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