Confusion as Bedouin plan slides off the agenda

Promise: Benny Begin

Promise: Benny Begin

The decision by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last Thursday night to cancel the Prawer-Begin Plan for the Negev Bedouin Settlements left its opponents jubilant — but with no clue about what the replacement could be.

According to former minister Benny Begin, the prime minister had promised him that the programme to invest NIS 2.5 billion to improve infrastructure and employment in the Bedouin towns would still go ahead, while the controversial plan to relocate around 40,000 Bedouin living in “unrecognised” villages would be shelved due to the opposition of the Bedouin tribes.

Adding to the lack of clarity is the fact that no formal instruction has been issued to the Knesset committee or to government officials to freeze the bill.

What remains unclear is how the government plans now to deal with the “unrecognised” villages and the claims of thousands of Bedouin to Negev land that have been turned down in the courts.

Left-wing Knesset members and activists who had fought the law took credit for blocking the plan but, ultimately, it was a lack of right-wing votes that brought it down.

On the left, the plan was slated for forcibly evicting Bedouin and destroying some of the villages. The right claimed the plan “rewarded” many Bedouin with land they do not own. MK Ahmed Tibi was realistic when he said: “For now common sense has won, only after the opposition and the Knesset and on the streets helped it. I hope that the prime minister won’t give in now to the crazies on the right and propose an even worse law.”

MK Omer Bar-Lev, who chairs the Knesset pro-Bedouin lobby, said: “The millions should now be spent on legalising the villages and connecting them to electricity and water and improving the health and education systems to restore trust between the state and its Bedouin citizens.”

On the other side of the political spectrum, Regavim, a right-wing movement dedicated to settling Jews in the Negev, said in a statement that the shelving of the Prawer-Begin plan would open the way “to dealing with the real problems of the Bedouin population and not just to serve the interests of a small handful of claimants by dividing hundreds of thousands of dunams between a minority.

“The violent reaction of the Bedouin leadership and Arab MKs to Begin’s super-generous plan proves that giving away presents broadcasts weakness and increases the claimants’ appetites.”

Last updated: 7:45pm, December 19 2013