Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir, who took over
responsibility on Sunday from former minister Bennie Begin for handling the
Beduin land issue for the government, is looking to make changes to the Prawer-
Begin Bill before pushing for its passage.
Shamir, in an interview with
The Jerusalem Post, said that his first objective would be to gain the Beduin’s
trust and negotiate with them, but if no agreement was reached, the government
would implement a plan “by force.”
He explained that all sides protesting
against the Prawer-Begin plan have lost sight of the main issue, which is that
citizens of the state have been “living in poverty; in third-world conditions,
and we have to change it.”
Shamir took a tour of the Negev on Tuesday and
met with Beduin and relevant government representatives.
He said he
wanted to freeze the legislative process in order to give him time to study the
complex issue and formulate a solution.
The bill, set to be revised, is a
five-year economic development initiative seeking to regulate Beduin settlement
in the Negev. It aims for a compromise solution for tens of thousands of Beduin
currently scattered in unrecognized villages – legalizing 63 percent of land
Beduin supporters oppose the bill because they say it would
result in up to 40,000 Beduin losing their land.
Meanwhile, opponents on
the Right criticize the bill as being too generous, saying that the state is
giving away land for free, land that the Beduin could not prove to be theirs in
The price we have to pay for an agreement is a secondary issue,
Asked whether the revised plan would have a detailed map
delineating who gets what, something lacking in the Prawer-Begin Bill, he said
The NGOs and Arab MKs that claim to be supporting the Beduin
“really do not care about the Beduin,” said Shamir, but are interested in
gaining political clout, “and we and the Beduin should not allow
Asked if he has been in contact with organizations that feel that
the plan was too generous to the Beduin, he responded that he has been in touch
with the Regavim – an NGO seeking to ensure responsible, legal and accountable
use of national land – and told it that it needs to look at the “whole picture”
and think about how much this issue could cost in the future if it isn’t fixed
Shamir insists that by using financial incentives the government
could find many Beduin who would come to an agreement with it.
“A lot of
them are eager for a solution,” he said, adding that some Beduin contacted him
after his appointment, telling him not to believe those saying the Beduin will
reject a deal.
Ari Briggs, international relations director of Regavim,
told the Post, “Regavim is happy that the government has not thrown up its hands
in surrender, and is continuing to work on ensuring that the rule of law is
returned to the Negev.”
Thabet Abu Rass, head of the Negev branch of
Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, told the Post that
he and United Arab List-Ta’al MKs Ahmed Tibi and Taleb Abu Arar met with Daniel
Shapiro, the US ambassador, about the issue on Tuesday.
This issue “has
the potential of inflaming Arab-Jewish relations and could threaten the
Israel-Palestinian peace talks,” Abu Rass said.
“Israel is pushing a very
aggressive policy; it needs a change of policy or nothing will change,” he said.
“The government needs to respect the Beduin and stop demolishing
Responding to the claim that most Beduin would support a
government plan, Abu Rass said that Begin himself “acknowledged that the Beduin
did not agree to the plan.”
In related news, a bus carrying around 100
Israeli diplomats on a Foreign Ministry tour of the Negev was stoned on
No one was injured, but one of the buses was
Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who participated in the
trip, said the incident was minor and the atmosphere during the tour had been
friendly. No one was injured, but one of the buses was damaged, Israel Radio reported. There is a silent majority of the Beduin who oppose attempts by
extremists to incite against the state, he said.