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Study claims law will exclude all but 1,050 Arab homes

Proposal to hook illegally built homes to power grid advances after compromise

Interior Minister Shaked reaches understandings with Ra’am MK Taha to resolve spat that had held up legislation; opposition Joint List party said planning to back bill

A view of houses in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Sawaneen in Israel's southern Negev Desert, on June 8, 2021. (Hazem Bader/AFP)
A view of houses in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Sawaneen in Israel's southern Negev Desert, on June 8, 2021. (Hazem Bader/AFP)

A bill that will enable thousands of illegally constructed homes in Arab Israeli communities to be hooked up to the electricity grid passed a key Knesset committee Tuesday, after Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked lifted her longstanding opposition to the bill.

Shaked and Ra’am party MK Walid Taha reportedly reached an agreement on the bill Monday, ending a longstanding feud within the governing coalition, and allowing the bill to pass its first reading on Tuesday in the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee. The bill now heads to the Knesset to pass its first reading there, before returning to committee for another two rounds of approvals.

The so-called Electricity Bill had driven a wedge between Shaked and Ra’am, an Islamist party that is in the coalition. Last month, Taha began canceling meetings of the Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, which he heads, in protest over what he claimed was foot-dragging by Shaked, of the right-wing Yamina party.

The law being pushed by Ra’am will allow the Israel Electric Company to connect some homes to the grid even if they were built without permits. It would have also let the company replace illegal and dangerous makeshift power grids prevalent in some areas with regulated legal connections.

Around 130,000 Arab Israelis live in illegally built homes in cities across the country that cannot be connected to the national grid, under existing legislation. Arab Israelis blame outdated urban plans that classify open land as “agricultural” rather than residential, while the Israeli right criticize what they call lawlessness in Arab communities.

Walid Taha, Chairman of the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, leads a committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on November 15, 2021.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Among the details ironed out Monday was the apparent removal of a clause that would have allowed homes in the process of being retroactively permitted to also be granted legal status rights to electricity, according to the latest draft copy of the law.

In addition, permission to connect to the power grid will only be granted after the presentation of a detailed work plan. There was no formal announcement of any compromise deal.

The Joint List, a predominantly Arab Israeli bloc of parties, voted for the legislation in the Internal Affairs Committee and will likely back it in the Knesset as well, according to sources in the party. Bad blood has persisted between the Joint List and Ra’am ever since the latter split from the bloc in February.

It was unclear, however, how many homes would be connected to the national grid by the legislation. An analysis done by the left-wing Sikkuy nonprofit found that only around 1,050 Arab homes fit the criteria under the new law to be connected to electricity.

Some homes will also likely be connected in ultra-Orthodox communities, where illegal construction in also rampant. Committee members from ultra-Orthodox parties also expressed support for the law.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks a press conference, at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, on October 31, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The law will seemingly not cover illegally built homes in Israeli West Bank outposts, sparking ire from some of Shaked’s allies in the settlement movement.

“Shaked is granting the Islamic Movement electricity and light while leaving us in the dark,” a group called the Young Settlement Forum said in a statement. “We expect someone who manages to reach festive understandings with Ra’am should take care at least do so in the same way with the people who voted for her and again feel cheated.”

MK Orit Strock of the opposition far-right Religious Zionism party attacked Shaked over the legislation, saying, “We have been left with the same horrible and disgraceful law that passed a preliminary reading.”

Strock claimed the law will “whitewash” 70,000 Arab homes while “blackening governance and the rule of law.”

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