Major disagreements over the proposed Prawer-Begin Beduin resettlement plan raised more doubts from Knesset members, threatening the bill’s passage and indicating that changes would be sought.
The controversial bill, meant to regulate Beduin settlement in the Negev, was debated again in the Knesset Interior Committee on Monday.
Former minister Bennie Begin, who helped put together the plan and is guiding the legislation through the Knesset, said that the Beduin never agreed to his plan nor ever saw it.
Begin’s comments upset coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud Beytenu), who told reporters Monday that he and others had been misled about the bill, and that major changes needed to be made. Levin said that he and other members of the coalition voted for the bill on its first reading believing that the Beduin agreed to the plan.
He explained by recalling that Begin had come to him and MK Ophir Akunis (Likud) at a Likud faction meeting, whereupon they asked him why they should agree if the bill offered so much to the Beduin and Begin responded that this is what they'll agree to. Levin said that Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman then said he did not like the bill but that if the Beduin agreed, “We should go for it.”
Thus, the bill passed its first reading based on the assumption that the Beduin agreed, Levin said in a letter addressed to Begin. But as it was now clear that the Beduin did not agree to the plan, it would be used as a starting point instead of as an end to their demands, he said.
Levin also said that during the protests against the plan, he did not hear a single Beduin voice for it.
In the interior committee hearing, Ibrahim al-Vakili stood up and said he disagreed with Arab MKs and wanted to cooperate with the government.
“They [Arab MKs] don’t represent me,” he said.
Begin commended the Bedouin man after the meeting, calling him brave.
The former minister told the committee that the changes he had made to the plan were so pro-Beduin that Likud voters booted him out of the Knesset during the last primaries.
Arab Knesset members were very upset during the hearing, and some were removed from the hall for disorderly conduct. UAL-Ta’al MK Taleb Abu Arar said that Begin’s comments were “proof that you are a racist – hate Arabs.”
“The law will cause an intifada in the Negev,” he pronounced.
“You want to transfer an entire population,” MK Hanna Swaid (Hadash) said.
Committee chairwoman MK Miri Regev (Likud) responded, “Yes, as the Americans did to the Indians.”
Regev said that the law transformed from a regulating law to a “concealed law,” referring to a letter written from the Prime Minister’s Office to the Construction and Housing Ministry.
On Thursday, MK Zvulun Kalfa (Bayit Yehudi) called for a halt debate on the bill because the government, he said, was hiding information from MKs.
He said he had uncovered a July 2013 agreement between the Construction and Housing Ministry and Doron Almog, director of the Directorate for Economic and Community Development of the Negev Beduin in the Prime Minister’s Office, which Almog did not report to the Knesset Interior Committee.
The agreement listed which Beduin towns would be expanded, which new ones would be founded for Beduin and for Jews and what land would be given to Beduin demanding ownership.
However, in response to an inquiry from The Jerusalem Post, Almog’s office said that the information in the agreement “was not concealed and its principles were already published in the past.”
But Regev referenced the document, saying that “You have hidden the map and the memorandum of understanding.
There is a severe damage of trust” between the committee and Almog’s office.
MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) said that even Likud MKs saw a problem with the bill, and that the bill would apparently not pass in its current form.
MK Zahava Gal-On called on the Prime Minister not to support the bill, in the wake of Begin’s comments.
The bill is “contrary to the values of the state and basic morality,” she said.
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Lahav Harkov contributed to this story.