Photo Credit: Kobi Richter/TPS
Shanty town of Khan al Ahmar, Oct 16, 2018.

The Knesset Plenum passed on Monday night in a preliminary reading a proposed amendment to the Electricity Law, which seeks to connect tens of thousands of illegal Bedouin-built structures in the Negev to the national electricity grid, despite their lack of permits and building plans.

The bill, part of the coalition agreement between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and the Islamist Ra’am party, passed with 61 in favor and 48 against.

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The law will now pass for further preparation in the Interior Committee, and then for its second and third readings.

The bill proposes that the Minister of the Interior be entitled to stipulate in an order that “it will be possible to connect a residential building located in a certain area, defined in the order, to electricity, water or telephone even without the existence of a building permit and completion certificate for that building.”

The conditions for issuing the order are a plan was submitted by one of the parties listed in the bill, that the structure for which the connection was requested was established by January 1, 2018, and no construction was added to them after that date.

The explanatory notes to the proposal claim that “in many localities in Israel, mostly Arab localities, the residents suffered for years from lack of planning, and therefore residents of these localities were unable to issue building permits and connect to electricity, water or telephone. In most cases, the same residents ended up connecting to electricity, water, or telephone illegally.”

“This extortionate bill endangers the rule of law and national planning and construction policy. The legislative amendment proposed by the Raam Party to Israel’s Electricity Law seeks to connect not only existing illegal structures but any and all illegal structures that will be built in the future. It is clear that approval of this law will result in a surge in illegal construction.”

The bill initiator, Member of Knesset Walid Tahan asserted that it “will do justice to tens of thousands of citizens who were forced to build their homes without permits because it was simply impossible to issue permits.”

Opposing the bill, MK Bezalel Smotrich stated that “this is a program that encourages chaos, gives a boost to all construction criminals in the Arab sector who are intentionally building illegally and will continue to build illegally to take over land, and not to pay property taxes. This is the law of anarchy and criminality and the surrender of [Minister of Interior] Ayelet Shaked and this government to the supporters of anti-Zionist terrorism in the Islamic movement.”

MK Aiman Uda, of the Joint List, said the bill would address only 3% of the problem.

The Regavim organization, which combats illegal takeover of state lands, explained that the existing ban on connecting structures erected without a permit to the electricity grid is “one of the state’s most effective tools against the national epidemic of illegal construction.”

Meir Deutsch, Director General of Regavim, differentiated between different categories of structures, noting that there is a certain degree of logic in approving electrical connections for structures for which the government intends to approve permits – but “not a wholesale whitewashing of illegal construction.”

“Structures that lack permits should meet basic criteria; otherwise, chaos will ensue and the government will lose its last remaining tool for preventing illegal construction and avoiding the complete breakdown of planning and land-use policy,” he said.

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Aryeh Savir is director of the International division of Tazpit News Agency.