The residents of the Abu Basma Regional Council will be entitled to vote for their local government for the first time in 2012, following a decision Tuesday by the Knesset’s Interior Committee to force the government to present a detailed timeline for the council’s development.

The regional council, comprised of a handful of scattered Beduin communities in the Negev, was established in 2003, but the Interior Ministry has repeatedly delayed the council’s first elections.

Interior Ministry official Avi Heller said that during the first four years following the council’s establishment, the ministry-appointed administration’s first priority was “establishing the municipal services."

“The level of infrastructures for public services was practically nonexistent,” he added.

Approximately 185,000 Beduin live in the Negev and, according to ministry officials, the eight to nine communities in the Abu Basma Council were slated for a potential population of 20,000-25,000.

But the ministry accused the Beduin of dragging their feet in registering the area as their place of residence, and said that the current recorded population of the council is approximately 5,000. Representatives of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said that they found that number strange, given that two years ago, the ministry reported that 7,000 had already registered their residence in the council.

“People are sitting on the fence regarding declaring their status and making the definitional transition from tribe to community,” said Heller.

The largest group so far to do so, he said, is the Tarabin tribe, which has settled in a community of the same name near Mishmar Hanegev.

What is now delaying the council’s readiness to begin regular operation, Interior Ministry officials argued, are the fence-sitters combined with a lack of detailed building plans for the council’s communities.

“We haven’t held elections yet because until two years ago, there were nine people registered in some of the communities. All they needed to do is go to Beersheba and change their addresses,” complained another ministry official. The ministry has asked to delay elections initially until 2013, to complete the planning drafts as well as the registration of residents.

All newly established councils are given a four-year trial period before elections are held, and prior to 2008, that period could be extended by the Interior Ministry to five years. In 2008, a law was passed enabling the ministry, together with the agreement of the Interior Committee, to extend that period to six years.

The six-year period expired for Abu Basma in December 2009, but Shas passed in late 2009 a law that allowed the ministry to extend the period indefinitely. Critics argued that these moves were designed specifically to prolong the term of the Abu Basma temporary council, chaired by Shas crony Amram Kalachi.

Beduin MKs Ibrahim Sarsour (Balad) and Taleb a- Sanaa (UAL) pressed Interior Ministry officials to commit to elections within two years.

“The fact that these preparations have yet to be completed shows the failure of the temporary council,” complained Sanaa. “Why can’t an elected committee do the same things? That is why we need a reasonable timetable, and biennial updates regarding the progress as required by law.”



Legal experts complained that since the second delay in the elections, the Interior Ministry did not ever file its report required about planning for elections – and that in the over six months since December 2009, the Interior Ministry is in violation of the law. ACRI has petitioned the High Court of Justice in an effort to ensure that the Interior Ministry upholds its commitments and works to advance elections in the regional council.

Interior Committee Chairman MK David Azoulai (Shas) proposed a compromise by which the ministry would commit to hold elections on the already scheduled date for regional elections in November 2012.

Azoulai also demanded that by the end of July, the Interior Ministry must present a work plan for the election, and that it submit the mandatory biennial reports to the committee.

The committee will pay an official visit to the area to take a closer look at the progress on the ground, he added.

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