Arab Party Mulls Boycotting Knesset Votes, Accusing Government of Stalling on Its Initiatives

A senior United Arab List official says there's a sense the government is 'poking them in the eye' by not advancing issues that are important to it

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UAL leader Mansour Abbas and UAL lawmaker Iman Khatib Yasin at the Knesset, in April.
UAL leader Mansour Abbas and UAL lawmaker Iman Khatib Yasin at the Knesset, in April. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The United Arab List, an Islamist party that made history by joining Israel's ruling coalition, hasn't been voting with it for a week, and party members are set to meet on Sunday to decide whether to carry on with their boycott.

A decision last week by the justice minister to postpone voting on a bill proposed by one of its lawmakers triggered the boycott – a threat to the coalition's slim Knesset majority – but a senior party official said that the reason for it is a sense that the government is “poking them in the eye” by not advancing issues that are important to it.

On Sunday, a discussion on legislation that bars Palestinians who are married to Israelis from gaining residency in Israel was canceled, marking UAL's latest sign of protest. The government was supposed to discuss the controversial legislation this week, but the meeting has been canceled until the Knesset considers proposed amendments to the law within the Interior Committee, which UAL lawmaker Walid Taha heads.

There are four significant issues that have sparked UAL anger toward senior government officials, especially Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who also heads the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked.

The first issue is a bill proposed by UAL lawmaker Khatib Yasin that would grant points toward reduced income tax for Bedouin living in unrecognized villages. The bill came before the Ministerial Committee on Legislation for discussion last week, with the vote expected to be postponed by agreement for two weeks. However, Sa’ar decided to postpone voting for a month.

In a month, the Knesset will go into spring recess, so the bill will not be brought for a vote again in the current session. The Finance Ministry opposes the bill since it claims it would mean the recognition of illegal towns – although this is not the intention of UAL in this bill.

The second issue afflicting the UAL is the division of land among Arab communities, especially in northern Israel. The Interior Ministry operates “border committees,” responsible for the transfer of land from one local council to another. According to the UAL, Interior Minister Shaked has failed to advance dozens of decisions that relate to Arab communities, although the local councils themselves are in agreement.

The Interior Ministry says that the lack of stability of the government until the current government was formed has led to a backlog of 140 decisions awaiting approval.

The third issue is the appointment of representatives to local planning and building councils as requested by the UAL, the approval of which Shaked has delayed.

The fourth issue also involves Shaked and relates to her failure to approve master plans for Arab communities.

According to sources in UAL, members feel that many steps that are important to them have not been taken by the current government, even when those are not in dispute. The party says it feels frustrated that except for the Electricity Law passed by the Knesset, the party can show no significant achievements that its voters expect.

From comments by senior members of the coalition and the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, it appears that some of the difficulties UAL is having with the bills stem from the fact that the party has no ministers, and therefore has no representation in the Ministerial Committee on Legislation.

“They don’t speak ahead of time with Sa’ar on laws that are critical to them, they don’t come to agreements with the finance and the justice ministries – and that’s why the bills are not moving ahead,” a source on the Ministerial Committee said. “Nobody deals with UAL unless there’s trouble. They don’t talk to them on a daily basis and that creates the problems.”

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