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Ra’am pulls plug on a Knesset panel’s meetings in power struggle with Shaked

Walid Taha rebels over interior minister delaying legislation meant to bring electricity to Bedouin homes in unrecognized hamlets, but party reportedly not ready to go mat yet

Ra'am MK Walid Taha attends a Knesset Arrangements Committee meeting, on June 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Ra'am MK Walid Taha attends a Knesset Arrangements Committee meeting, on June 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A Ra’am party MK said Tuesday he will not allow a key Knesset panel to convene later this week in protest against coalition foot-dragging, the latest in a series of low-level spats challenging the government ahead of a key vote on passing Israel’s first budget in years.

Walid Taha, head of the Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, canceled meetings scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday that had been planned to mark up an economics arrangements bill accompanying the budget proposal.

The cancellation came after Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked delayed a bill pushed by Ra’am to allow homes built without proper permits to still be hooked up to electricity, amid an ongoing tiff between her and the Islamist party.

In a tweet, Taha threatened that the party could leave the government — thus forcing its collapse — if promises made during coalition negotiations are not held up.

“The time for decisions has come! Either the agreements are honored in full or we go to elections,” he wrote. “Electricity is a basic life necessity and the state is preventing thousands of homes from being hooked up because it could not be bothered for decades to advance building plans in the Arab community.” Taha accused the country of punishing residents who had been forced into the situation.

Some 90,000 people live in unrecognized Bedouin townships in Israel’s southern Negev desert. The Israeli government considers the sprawling villages illegal, and the residents, many of whom make up Ra’am’s political base, live in impoverished conditions, with little access to electricity and running water.

Demolished homes in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev desert, in the in southern Israel, on January 18, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The law being pushed by Ra’am and delayed by Shaked would have allowed the Israel Electric Company to connect homes to the grid even if they do not have permits. It would have also let the company replace illegal makeshift power hookups prevalent in some areas with regulated legal connections.

Ra’am, the first Arab party to enter the government in decades, has used its unique position to push for an end to neglect in Arab communities. Party members told Haaretz that the issue had been discussed in coalition negotiations before the government was formed, but the coalition has since dragged its feet on making good on whatever promises it made.

The coalition is made up of just 61 members, giving it the thinnest possible majority in the 120-seat Knesset and giving Ra’am or any other party the power to bring down the government by pulling out of it. However, party sources said they were looking to smooth over the rift rather than go to war, Haaretz reported.

Shaked has been at the center of several rifts within the coalition — an ‘Odd Couple’ assemblage of parties ranging from her settler-backed Yamina to leftist Meretz to Islamist Ra’am — despite efforts to squelch internal fighting until after the budget is passed, likely next month.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked are seen in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on July 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Earlier on Tuesday, Shaked lashed out at Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz for comments she said had tarred her political camp over the murder of Yitzhak Rabin 26 years earlier.

“Such labeling excludes half of the people from the democratic game; it is not the preservation of democracy but instead shows contempt,” Shaked said in a Facebook post.

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