As of late 1988, there were two levels of local government: the
central government operated the upper or district level; citizens
elected the lower and relatively autonomous municipal level officials.
The system of district administration and local government was
for the most part based on statutes first promulgated during the
Ottoman era and perpetuated under the British Mandate for Palestine
and under Yishuv policies. Since independence it has been modified
to deal with changing needs and to foster local self-rule. As
of late 1988, local government institutions had limited powers,
experienced financial difficulties, and depended to a great extent
on national ministries; they were, nevertheless, important in
the political framework.
Israel consisted of six administrative districts and fourteen
subdistricts under, respectively, district commissioners and district
officers. The minister of interior appointed these officials,
who were responsible to him for implementing legislative and administrative
matters. District officials drafted local government legislation,
approved and controlled local tax rates and budgets, reviewed
and approved by-laws and ordinances passed by locally elected
councils, approved local public works projects, and decided on
grants and loans to local governments. In their activities, local
officials were also accountable to the Office of the State Comptroller.
Staff of other ministries might be placed by the minister of interior
under the general supervision of district commissioners.
Israel's local self-government derived its authority from the
by-laws and ordinances enacted by elected municipal, local, and
regional councils and approved by the minister of interior. Up
to and including the municipal elections of 1973, mayors and members
of the municipal councils were elected by universal, secret, direct,
and proportional balloting for party lists in the same manner
as Knesset members. Council members in turn chose mayors and municipal
council chairpersons. After 1978 mayoral candidates were elected
directly by voters in a specific municipality, while members of
municipal and local councils continued to be elected according
to the performance of party lists and on the basis of proportional
representation (see The Knesset , this ch.).
Population determined the size of municipal and local councils.
Large urban areas were classified as municipalities and had municipal
councils. Local councils were designated class "A" (larger) or
class "B" (smaller), depending on the number of inhabitants in
villages or settlements. Regional councils consisted of elected
delegates from settlements according to their size. Such councils
dealt mainly with the needs of cooperative settlements, including
kibbutzim and moshavim (see Glossary). The extensive local government
powers of the minister of interior included authority to dissolve
municipal councils; district commissioners had the same power
with regard to local councils.
Local authorities had responsibility for providing public services
in areas such as education, health care and sanitation, water
management, road maintenance, parks and recreation, and fire brigades.
They also levied and collected local taxes, especially property
taxes, and other fees. Given the paucity of locally raised tax
revenues, most local authorities depended heavily on grants and
loans from the national Treasury. The Ministry of Education and
Culture, however, made most of the important decisions regarding
education, such as budgets, curriculum, and the hiring, training,
and licensing of teachers. Nationwide, in 1986 local authorities
contributed approximately 50 percent to financing local budgets.
In 1979 the figure was about 29 percent. Over the years, municipalities
have relied on two other methods for raising funds: cities such
as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa used special municipal endowment
funds, particularly for cultural purposes; and Project Renewal,
a collaboration among local authorities, government ministries,
and the Jewish Agency (see Glossary) provided funds to rehabilitate
Local government employees came under the Local Authorities Order
(Employment Service) of 1962. The statutes pertaining to the national
Civil Service Commission did not cover them.
The Local Government Center, a voluntary association of major
cities and local councils, was originally established in 1936,
and reorganized in 1956. It represented the interests of local
governing bodies vis-à-vis the central authorities, government
ministries, and Knesset committees. It also represented local
authorities in wage negotiations and signed relevant agreements
together with the Histadrut and the government. The center organized
conferences and advisory commissions to study professional, budgetary,
and managerial issues, and it participated in various national
Data as of December 1988