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
“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
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
“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
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
“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,
Interior Ministry did not ever file its report required about planning
elections – and that in the over six months since December 2009, the
Ministry is in violation of the law. ACRI has petitioned the High Court
Justice in an effort to ensure that the Interior Ministry upholds its
commitments and works to advance elections in the regional
Interior Committee Chairman MK David Azoulai (Shas) proposed a
compromise by which the ministry would commit to hold elections on the
scheduled date for regional elections in November 2012.
demanded that by the end of July, the Interior Ministry must present a
for the election, and that it submit the mandatory biennial reports to
The committee will pay an official visit to the area to take a
closer look at the progress on the ground, he added.