Opposition Slams Government for Fast-tracking Knesset Vote on Unrecognized Villages

Opposition lawmakers plan to boycott debate on connecting Bedouin villages in the Negev to the electrical grid over what they see as excessive use of fast-tracking procedures

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
United Arab List leader Mansour Abbas in the Knesset last year.
United Arab List leader Mansour Abbas in the Knesset last year.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

A government-backed bill to allow buildings constructed without permits to be connected to the electrical grid will be fast-tracked through the Knesset, the Israeli parliament's House Committee announced Tuesday.

In response, all opposition parties, except the Arab-majority Joint List, have announced a boycott the debate on the United Arab List-sponsored bill.

During Tuesday’s House Committee meeting, which also approved a fast-track process for two other bills, opposition MKs slammed the current government’s widespread use of a bylaw which effectively condenses the general 90 hours allotted for debate and voting to a mere 14 hours.

“In the past, use of this provision was limited, because we reached agreements” on how potentially lengthy debates should be conducted, Likud lawmaker Yariv Levin charged.

A brief debate was held on Tuesday. The Knesset is set to reconvene at 8 A.M. on Wednesday for the vote.

Put forward by Mansour Abbas' United Arab List, the bill is primarily aimed at helping that party’s constituents, many of whom live in illegally built homes in the Negev that aren’t connected to the national grid. The bill’s explanatory notes say it will help “tens of thousands of households” whose lack of electricity denies them “a decent standard of living suitable to the Israel of 2021.”

The committee’s legal adviser, Arbel Astrachan, agreed that this procedure is being employed more in the current Knesset, whereas it ought to be used only in exceptional cases. The Knesset’s legal adviser, Sagit Afik, similarly pointed out the procedure was being overused and that “it would be more proper to reach agreements.”

In response to the decision, the Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism and Religious Zionism parties issued a joint statement saying they would boycott the debate in protest and would meet on Wednesday to discuss additional steps.

“For the first time in the Knesset’s history, the House Committee made a decision that directly contradicted the legal adviser’s explicit position,” the statement said. “To silence the opposition’s criticism of UAL’s electricity bill, which legalizes the theft of state lands by Arabs’ construction of tens of thousands of illegal buildings, the coalition canceled the opposition’s right to explain and vote on all the amendments it submitted and even scheduled additional bills for debate on Wednesday, in violation of an explicit agreement with Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy. This was a capitulation to the Islamic Movement’s dictate that the law’s enactment be finished by tomorrow.”

The governing coalition’s Knesset leadership countered with a statement saying, “This is the same opposition that boycotts Knesset committees, undermines their proper functioning and parliamentary work, boycotts meetings of the Knesset presidium and the customary meetings with coalition leaders about agreements, and regularly smears and belittles the Knesset speaker. This is the same opposition that has turned paralysis and hurting Israeli citizens into an end and has long since become an opposition to the state of Israel.”

The bill has sparked a fierce disagreement last month between the United Arab List and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, threatening the stability of Israel's governing coalition and sparking tremendous outrage among the United Arab List, who view the law as a flagship issue for their voters, primarily Arab communities in the south.

UAL member Walid Taha said 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.

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