The paper examines the discretionary powers of Israeli local mayors in small peripheral towns under conditions of changing patterns of decentralisation and attempts to ascertain the contribution of national ideology, social structure and financial constraints in understanding the limits to these powers. Research on immigration policy-making generally focuses on the role of the state and of its institutions. Recently, as part of an underlying trend towards greater decentralisation, a new direction in immigration policy study is emerging, emphasising the power of local authorities in decision-making in Israel and elsewhere. However, it is usually considered separately from national ideologies or policies at the state level. Research into how mayors of small Israeli peripheral towns (development towns) responded to the settlement of a large wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union during the 1990s, sheds light on the economic and national constraints which limit the discretionary power of local mayors. In the Israeli case, the responses of the mayors to the settlement of immigrants in their towns range from active endorsement of a policy of immigrant absorption to objection and protest against it, while remaining within the boundaries and legitimacy of the Zionist conception of 'homecoming. In this sense, decentralisation emphasises the separateness of small peripheral towns and their mayors, in contrast to the assumption of political realignment between the urban and the national that brings cities 'back in'.