Fast-tracked Knesset Vote on Unrecognized Villages Passes, Enraging Opposition

Put forward by Mansour Abbas' United Arab List, this legislation is primarily aimed at helping that party’s constituents, many of whom live in illegally built homes in the Negev that are not connected to Israel's national grid

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
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The Knesset plenum, January 5, 2022.
The Knesset plenum, January 5, 2022.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

The Knesset passed on Wednesday legislation to allow homes constructed without permits to be connected to the electrical grid, despite vocal resistance from the opposition over the government's decision to fast-track the vote.

Put forward by Mansour Abbas' United Arab List, it is primarily aimed at helping that party’s constituents, many of whom live in illegally built homes in the Negev that are not 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 vote passed with 61 votes and favor and with no votes against it, as the opposition chose to boycott the vote. Three Joint List lawmakers abstained.

During the discussions, the chairman of the Knesset Interior Committee, Walid Taha of the United Arab List, gave a long speech entirely in Arabic. Likud Knesset members lashed out at him, claiming that they do not understand. MK Shlomo Karhi, for instance, shouted at him: "Keep speaking in Arabic, so they can see who took over the country."

Miki Zohar also heckled: "You're lording over us in Arabic. You forgot that this is the Israeli parliament. After this, it'll turn on you."

Likud MK Avi Dichter told Taha that if he were a decent person, he would give his speech in Arabic and then translate it into Hebrew. Taha responded that it is their problem that they had not learned Arabic. At that point, United Arab List chairman Mansour Abbas, who ran the discussion, intervened and requested that Taha give his speech in Hebrew.

An argument also broke out between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and members of the opposition, who claimed that Bennett does not support the settlement outpost movement. The prime minister got up from his seat, approached the opposition bench and told them that he does more for it than they do. He also reminded them that the leader of the opposition, MK Benjamin Netanyahu, was the one who supported Israel's evacuation of the Gaza Strip settlements. At this point, Netanyahu arose and distanced himself from the verbal brawl.

After the discussion, Bennett released a statement in which he called the opposition "bullies," and said: "We will not capitulate to bullying that is directed by the head of the opposition, who is fed up with the rules of democracy and sows chaos. Netanyahu, who voted for the Gaza disengagement and [Likud MK Miri] Regev, who acted as its spokesperson, will not preach morality to me. They will continue shouting, and we will continue doing."

The bill 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.

After a lengthy negotiation between the two sides, a compromise was reached. The law created a crisis within the Israeli ruling coalition over the past months, mostly because of disagreements between Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and the United Arab List.

The vote was fast-tracked through the Knesset, and in response, all opposition parties, except the Arab-majority Joint List, said Tuesday that they would be boycotting the debate on the United Arab List-sponsored bill, but eventually they did not.

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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