Ra’am MK warns coalition in peril as it pushes to connect Arab homes to power grid

The Islamist party is fuming over ongoing disagreements with interior minister Shaked on legislation that would allow illegally built Arab homes to be supplied with electricity

MK Mazen Ghnaim speaks during a committee meeting, in the Knesset, October 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
MK Mazen Ghnaim speaks during a committee meeting, in the Knesset, October 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Ra’am MK Walid Taha, who heads the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee, was set to meet Tuesday evening with Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked as the two clashed over a bill that would allow thousands of illegally built homes in Arab communities to be connected to the power grid.

Ahead of the meeting, his colleague, Ra’am lawmaker Mazen Ghanaim, told Kan news that if the two could not reach an agreement on the legislation, his party would bolt the coalition, causing its collapse.

He did not say which issues specifically were under disagreement.

The bill cleared its first reading at the Knesset plenum earlier this month but is now under further deliberation and is the subject of internal disagreements in the coalition. On Monday, Taha canceled a meeting of the Internal Affairs Committee, citing the ongoing dispute with Shaked on the legislation’s final form.

Taha told the Haaretz newspaper that the party wanted the issue taken out of Shaked’s hands, saying while she ostensibly supports it as a member of the coalition, she is actually trying to empty it of meaning. “She’s hostile to the bill and has attempted to thwart it since day one,” he said Monday.

Shaked, of the Yamina party, is seen by Arab legislators as unfriendly to their agenda. The hard-right minister was widely reported to have been highly uncomfortable with the formation of a government that included Ra’am and has been under repeated attacks by right-wing members of the opposition over her eventual agreement to do so.

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

The law being pushed by Ra’am, an Islamist party in the coalition, would allow the Israel Electric Corporation to connect some homes to the grid even if they were built without permits. It would also let the company replace the 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 criticizes what it calls lawlessness in Arab communities.

Under the current bill, Shaked as interior minister would have the authority to decide which areas would be eligible for connection to the power grid, and Ra’am now fears she could create continued difficulties by simply refusing to connect many homes in Arab Israeli cities and towns.

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