Islamist Lawmakers Boycott Parliament Votes Over Tree-planting in Israel's South

With United Arab List's boycott and several Knesset members out due to COVID, opposition lawmakers enjoyed a rare majority, passing five bills in preliminary votes

Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov
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United Arab List head Mansour Abbas with local Bedouin in Israel's Negev, January 10, 2022.
United Arab List head Mansour Abbas with local Bedouin in Israel's Negev, January 10, 2022. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov

United Arab List legislators boycotted the votes in the Knesset Wednesday over the Jewish National Fund's tree-planting in Bedouin communities in southern Israel, allowing the opposition to pass five different bills in preliminary votes.

The first bill of the five, sponsored by Joint List lawmakers Ahmad Tibi and Osama Saadi, would require policemen to wear body cameras at demonstrations.

The passing of this bill prompted coalition members to exit the plenum, leaving only the members of the opposition to vote on the rest of the bills.

At the beginning of the week United Arab List chairman Mansour Abbas declared that if the JNF's plan to plant trees in the Negev was not stopped, the UAL would refuse to vote with the coalition.

However, the coalition leadership did not attribute much importance to this threat because Knesset members from both the coalition and opposition agreed to reduce attendance at the plenum this week due to COVID-19 concerns.

But after clashes erupted in the area of the planting, the opposition decided to withdraw from the agreement. The coalition tried to recruit a majority, but failed to do so without the UAL and with a large number of MKs in isolation due to COVID infection (those who were exposed to the virus are allowed to vote).

In addition, MK Nir Orbach of Yamina refused to participate Wednesday, in protest of the UAL boycott.

On Wednesday, Labor Minister Meir Cohen and Abbas came to an agreement to ease tensions in the coalition, determining that future work by the Jewish National Fund in the Negev will be negotiated by coalition partners. According to the agreement, coalition talks on the next phase of the JNF's work will start on Thursday.

In response Abbas tweeted: “There are no winners and losers, as citizens all of us will win when we plant hope and allow the residents of the Negev to live and to earn a livelihood with dignity. Regularization in the Negev is in the interest of all of us, Jews and Arabs, and we will advance it with rapprochement that will lead to acceptable agreements. Israeli governments have failed in dealing with the issue of the Negev, together we will rehabilitate the fabric of relations and the Negev will bloom and prosper to the benefit of all of us.”

Coordinator of the opposition Yariv Levin said on Wednesday evening: “Today it has been proven once again – the present government is a government of chaos. With COVID, in the Negev, and in the Knesset too. Zero management, zero leadership.”

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