Opposition bill on connecting illegal West Bank outposts to power grid shot down

Coalition’s right-wing parties Yamina and New Hope vote against the bill, are slammed by Likud

Then-Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin at the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank on March 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Then-Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin at the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank on March 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An opposition-led bill that sought to allow the connection of illegal Israeli outposts in the West Bank to the power grid was shot down on Wednesday afternoon.

The bill, put forward by opposition Likud MK Yariv Levin, did not receive the support of right-wing coalition factions Yamina and New Hope, and failed its preliminary reading at the plenum.

Levin said the right-wing parties’ votes against the legislation were “a new height of shame, cynicism and the breaking of promises by people who don’t even care about the distress of small children.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who voted against the bill, was accused by Levin of “turning a cold shoulder to the children of the young settlements” — a term increasingly used on the right to refer to illegal outposts.

“While Arab intruders in the Negev are being connected to the power grid, the children of settlers will continue to freeze,” he said, referring to legislation that allows thousands of illegally built homes inside Israel proper, mostly in Arab communities, to be connected to the power grid.

The Electricity Bill, proposed by the coalition’s Islamist Ra’am party in August, aimed to address the issue of more than 130,000 Arab Israelis who live in illegally built homes across the country that cannot be connected to the national grid.

View of the Givat Asaf outpost, near the settlement of Beit El in the West Bank on May 15, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash 90)

The bill, which became a focus of conflict between coalition and opposition parties, was passed into law in its second and third readings last month.

It does not cover illegally built homes in Israeli West Bank outposts, which has sparked ire from the settlement movement and led to Levin’s failed attempt at passing a bill that would.

Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana of Yamina attacked the Likud party on Wednesday, arguing that Levin’s bill was only a distraction and that the party was not actually interested in resolving the issue.

“There is nothing that scares the Likud more than resolving the issue of the young settlement movement. Any progress on this issue in this government would be a political disaster for Likud,” Kahana said.

Religious Affairs Ministers Matan Kahana addresses the Knesset plenum on July 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“That’s why you’re doing everything in your power to prevent any progress. You know that the only way of dealing with this humanitarian issue is by connecting the settlements to electricity through a decree issued by a [military] major-general, and not through distracting and pointless bills,” he said.

The military’s Civil Administration is Israel’s governing body in the West Bank. Some in the coalition are currently seeking a military-led measure that will allow power connections to be made.

“Even when [you] were in control, in a completely right-wing government and with a sympathetic American administration, you did nothing.”

A previous attempt of legalizing  and providing utilities to illegal West Bank settlements was spearheaded by hard-right Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich in late 2020, just before the Knesset dispersed and Israel went into a fourth election in two years. His proposed bill, the so-called Outposts Law, would have legalized some 65 illegal communities in the West Bank and connected them to the national water and electricity grids.

A previous bill along the same lines, also initiated by Smotrich, passed a preliminary reading in 2018 before dying in committees.

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