Photo credit: Meir Elipur

Today, we participated in an emergency meeting organized by the Land of Israel Caucus in the Knesset to demand security and safety for the Negev.

Meir Deutsch, Regavim’s Director General, spoke to the Members of Knesset about the Negev predicament, and explained why Bedouin settlements that have been legalized are, in effect, still squatter camps.

The retrospective legalizations have not provided appropriate solutions for the Bedouin residents, nor have they solved the root problem of the loss of governance in the Negev.

The government decision to approve three Bedouin settlements and to connect illegal structures to the electricity grid could either lead to the regulating of settlement in the Negev and the Galilee, or the exact opposite: the abandonment of these areas. The devil is always in the details.

Regulating Bedouin settlements in the Negev and merging them into legal towns – yes. Encouraging more lawlessness – no.

**

Regavim has also been at the forefront against Ra’am’s Electricity Law, which endangers the rule of law. Ra’am, headed by MK Mansour Abbas, has threatened to dismantle the government coalition if its proposed amendment to the Electricity Law, which seeks to connect tens of thousands of illegal structures to the national electricity grid, is not passed.

The legislative amendment seeks to connect existing and all future illegal structures. This extortionate bill endangers the rule of law and national planning and construction policy. And it’s clear that approval of this law will result in a surge in illegal construction.

One of the state’s most effective tools against the national epidemic of illegal construction is the existing ban on connecting structures erected without a permit to the electricity grid.

Although there’s a certain degree of logic in approving electrical connections for structures for which the government intends to approve permits, a wholesale whitewashing of illegal construction would be a disaster.

Structures that lack permits should meet basic criteria to be approved:

  1. Only structures built before 2018 and the enactment of the Kaminitz Law, which included clear and enforceable criteria for construction.
  2. Only structures for which a detailed outline plan has been submitted by the state, and not by various entities such as local authorities.
  3. A bank guarantee of NIS 40,000 should be deposited. If the plan is not approved and a building permit is not obtained, the guarantee will be forfeited.
  4. If judicial or administrative orders of demolition for the structures haven’t been issued.
  5. The connection will be temporary; permanent electrical connection will be contingent on approval of the state’s plan and issuance of a building permit.

The coalition depends on the votes of the Ra’am party so it is about to pass a law that effectively rewards illegal construction, which is a serious problem in the Arab sector.

Without fanfare, the Ra’am party recently submitted one of the shortest bills in Israel’s legislative history. Amending only three words – “14 Sivan 5777 (May 31, 2007)” to “30 Kislev 5785 (Dec. 31, 2024)” – the Islamist party aims to legalize electricity hookups for tens of thousands of illegal homes built in the Arab sector over the course of decades.

Israel’s Electricity Sector Law enabled thousands of illegal Arab-sector structures, some of them decades old at the time, to be hooked up to the main grid. The law, passed in 1996 as provisional legislation limited to two years, stipulated that only structures not slated for demolition could be connected. But as everyone knows, there’s nothing more permanent than a temporary fix, and if you give an inch they’ll take a mile.

In short order, Arab MKs made uncommonly good use of this common wisdom: They submitted a bill to “amend” the temporary law, which was extended several times through political deals cut in shadowy Knesset corridors, until it finally expired on May 31, 2007.

The law applied only to “structures which the government has no intention to demolish,” but since then, every year many thousands more are added to the already-staggering tally of illegal construction in Arab communities in the north and the Bedouin hinterland of the Negev. The burden on law enforcement agencies results in skewed enforcement priorities and a dismal situation on the ground: Demolition orders against “old construction” are no longer applied for or enforced, and as time goes on, more and more illegal structures slide, unobstructed, into this category.

Illegal construction is a national epidemic, and its primary victims are the residents of these communities who continue to suffer from a lack of adequate infrastructure. It is impossible to pave a road or build a park if an illegal house is built on land slated for public use; high-speed internet lines, fiber optic cables, sewage, water and gas lines can’t be improved if public utility corridors are filled with illegal structures that the state has chosen to ignore and eventually ‘legalize.’

Despite the often-heard complaint that national planning authorities have failed to advance development plans for Arab communities, the responsibility actually lies with local authorities. Moreover, dozens of detailed plans for housing construction in the non-Jewish sector, drafted and approved by the state, have hit a brick wall – literally – because dozens of structures were built illegally during the approval process on land slated for development, burying any hope of alleviating the housing crisis under illegal single-unit structures built without regard for the environment or the current and future needs of the community.

The prohibition against connecting illegal structures to electricity is one of the state’s most significant tools in the fight against illegal construction; it helps ensure that crime doesn’t pay. Yet since the expiration of the “temporary” legislation, the Arab parties have tried no less than 10 times to revive it; each time, MKs of the Zionist parties blocked it.

But now, because the coalition depends on the votes of Mansour Abbas and his colleagues in the Arab bloc, Ra’am is demanding that the law not only be re-enacted, but applied retroactively from its expiration 15 years ago. A deal has begun to take shape; according to the details that have leaked out – despite attempts to keep them hidden away in the shadowy Knesset corridors – the coalition will pass the Electricity Law in the next Knesset session in exchange for the Joint Arab List’s abstention or outright support for the state budget.

If the coalition allows this law to pass, the ramifications will be both immediate and far-reaching: Not only will it reward construction offenses in the Arab sector, it will in effect create two separate legal systems for planning and construction in the State of Israel. While in the Jewish sector the National Planning and Construction Law is alive, well and strictly enforced, tens of thousands of illegal homes in the Arab sector against which the law has not been enforced due to bureaucracy and incompetence will be connected to infrastructure, granting them a legal seal of approval.

It is said that there is no death penalty in the State of Israel, but it seems that Israel’s Planning and Construction Law is already strapped to the electric chair, and the coalition’s trigger finger is hovering “ten degrees to the right” of the power switch.

This article first appeared on Israel Hayom

Turn on English subtitles for an explanation by Regavim’s CEO about the new “communities” discussed

What are the “new settlements” in the Negev that Raam Party leader Mansour Abbas is demanding?

When you imagine the establishment of new settlements, you probably think of architects and engineers who sit down together and plan framework and infrastructure of any new settlement down to the smallest detail.

But things in the Negev work differently. Hundreds of thousands of illegal homes and structures throughout the Negev are scattered across enormous swaths of land. The policy that Abbas is pushing for is to simply draw an imaginary blue line around each cluster of illegal structures and call it a community. Does that solve water, electricity, and construction problems? Is this a sensible, environmentally or socially sustainable utilization of the land? Of course not! Will it restore the land the state has lost to the huge expansion of illegal construction? No; quite the opposite.

The new agreement means that the State of Israel (and the Jewish residents of the Negev) will cede more and more land in the Negev for Bedouin “settlements,” and equitable, sustainable long-term planning be damned!

The bottom line is that Ra’am’s “nice ideas” are a disaster for the Negev, for Israeli sovereignty over what amounts to two thirds of the country’s total area, and for future national development.

Don’t be fooled: If Ra’am get their way, the country will essentially be split in half, with the northern and southern parts divided by a midriff section controlled by Bedouin clans – devoid of modern planning, beyond the reach of Israeli governance, a breeding ground for stunted communities with no sources of legal employment or industry and no prospects for development. The Zionist vision for the Negev and for the country will be nothing more than a distant memory.

Regavim: Protecting Israel’s Resources, Preserving Israeli Sovereignty