The hotly debated “Prawer bill,” regulating Beduin settlements in the Negev narrowly passed in its first Knesset reading Monday, with 43 in favor and 40 opposed.

The discussion of the bill was marked by loud arguments and demonstrations by Arab MKs, who began the debate by walking out when Welfare Minister Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid) presented the legislation.

“This is not a bill, it’s a strangling,” MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) said as he left the plenum.

Soon after, while MK Muhammad Barakei (Hadash) argued against the bill, Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat (Likud) shouted out that he is “obnoxious,” and Barakei told her to shut her mouth. Then, Barakei tore up a copy of the legislation, leading Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to say he will file a complaint against him to the Knesset Ethics Committee.

“This is a Mark of Cain on the forehead of anyone who supports the bill,” said MK Ahmed Tibi (UAL-Ta’al) as he poured water on the document. “This is a usurping bill! It expels people from their lands and homes for the second and third time after the tragedy of 1948 [Israel’s establishment].”

MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) took a more diplomatic approach, saying that she is sure former Likud minister Benny Begin meant well in drafting the plan – on which the bill is based – but does not recognize the Beduin’s historical rights.

“You need to praise this law, and [the coalition] should oppose it, because it gives the Beduin what the courts wouldn’t,” said MK Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi). Calling the Beduin “squatters,” Shaked said that a sovereign state cannot allow illegal settlements built by Jews or Arabs, and when illegal towns are built they must be evacuated.

MK Meir Sheetrit (Hatnua), who led negotiations with the Beduin on land issues during Ehud Olmert’s premiership, expressed careful optimism about the bill: “For the first time, this law creates an opening for an agreement. It’s unfortunate that people are so angry. The goal here is to regulate [the land] and find the best solution.”

Earlier Monday, the coalition almost stopped the vote from taking place, when it was discovered by Bayit Yehudi that the draft submitted to the Knesset differed from the one agreed upon by the party and the Prime Minister’s Office. After several hours of negotiations, the Prime Minister’s Office and Begin agreed to reinstate a clause limiting the timetable in which Beduin can lay claim on land.

The current Prawer-Begin plan calls for legalizing around 63 percent of Beduin land claims. It has drawn opposition from both the Right, which argued that it would give away too much and not solve the problem, and the Left, which claims that it is not generous enough.

The legislation follows a plan proposed by Begin in 2012 that calls for regulating the land of the Bedouin. It was based on a previous plan drawn up by a team headed by Ehud Prawer in 2011, which in turn was based on recommendations of a committee chaired by former Supreme Court justice Eliezer Goldberg. Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) came to an agreement last month with Begin, who has been responsible for putting together the plan for resolving the Beduin issue.

The first, main demand in the redrafted proposal was an agreement to draw up a specific map that includes exact details of the plan, which delineates the areas that would be given to Beduin and those reserved for the state or Jewish settlement.

Second, a ministerial committee headed by the prime minister will monitor the implementation of the plan. Third, the timetable would be shortened from five years to three and finally, a Jewish settlement would be established on the outskirts of Arad in the Negev.

NGOs supporting the Beduin land claims argue the government should agree to a solution with the Beduin and recognize their settlements to insure their rights, and oppose expulsion or forced relocation.

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Doron Almog, the director of the headquarters for the economic and community development of the Negev Beduin in the Prime Minister’s Office told The Jerusalem Post last week that a legal solution is required to solve the Beduin issue.

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