The Minister Preventing Israelis From Having Electricty

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Lawmakers Mansour Abbas and Walid Taha in the Knesset in April.
Lawmakers Mansour Abbas and Walid Taha in the Knesset in April.Credit: Noam Moskowitz/ Knesset Spokesperson

The electricity bill, which has been destabilizing the governing coalition for weeks, is an amendment to the Planning and Construction Law and was proposed by MK Walid Taha of the United Arab List. Its aim is to help tens of thousands of homes in Arab communities that were built without permits to connect to the power grid.

It was an election promise to UAL voters, who struggled to accept the party’s participation in a coalition that includes right-wing parties and is headed by Naftali Bennett. But none of this interests Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, who is delaying the bill’s passage despite an agreement reached between the coalition and the UAL. While also trying to evade repaying a coalition debt, she is mainly trying to evade righting an institutional wrong suffered by Israel’s Arab community since the state was founded.

Successive Israeli governments have avoided the introduction of proper planning in Arab communities. This has created an intolerable situation in which Israeli Arabs cannot obtain building permits or to connect legally to phone, water and electricity service. As a result, many resorted to illegal hookups. The electricity bill aims to rectify this ongoing discrimination and guarantee that connections to the power grid in Arab communities are carried out in a safe and legal manner.

There were two important initiatives in the past to correct this injustice. In 1988, an injunction ordered the connection to the power grid of homes built without permits in Kafr Qara, Daliat al-Carmel, Umm al-Fahm and Isfiya. And in 1996 the Electricity Economy Law was passed and remained in effect until 2005. The initiatives separated between planning and construction permits and between the basic right to connect to electricity and helping thousands of households connect to the electricity grid, without regard for planning and regularization – processes that take time and involve bureaucracy.

Taha’s amendment seeks to cut the red tape so that not only homes built before 2014 without a permit but those whose plans were approved for submission to the zoning board will be connected to the grid, as well as structures whose plans are in pre-submission stages.

Shaked is against simplifying the bureaucracy. “She is hostile to the law and has been trying from day one to shoot it down, Taha said Monday. He chairs the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, and said all its meetings scheduled for this week are canceled. He demands that Shaked be stripped of authority to advance the bill on behalf of the government, and that its passage be expedited.

The coalition government was founded on a desire to benefit all citizens. Shaked, out of cynical political considerations, is impeding the legislation. The prime minister must call her to order and explain to her that her “winking” at the right is harming the government’s work, but mainly harming disadvantaged Israelis who deserve the basic right to electricity.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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