Israeli Arab demonstrators take part in a Land Day rally in the northern village of Deir Hanna.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
State Comptroller Joseph Shapira’s report calling on the government to immediately resolve the issue of unrecognized or illegal villages in the Negev ignores the main obstacle: Beduin and Arab resistance to compromise.
The report released Wednesday emphasizes that regulating Beduin settlement does not depend on the government alone, but requires cooperation from the Beduin population and its leaders.
The report does not delve further into this issue.
This is unfortunate, since this political opposition is the main hindrance to a negotiated solution.
The Arab political parties and politicians, led by Balad and the Islamic Movement, have sought to ‘Palestinianize’ the Beduin conflict with the state and turn it into part of the larger Israel-Palestinian struggle.
Protests held in the Negev on the Beduin resettlement issue are driven by a plethora of NGOs and Arab politicians that bus in protesters from the North and push the Beduin into a corner, where most of them now are unwilling to compromise for fear of being labeled as sell outs by Arab political leaders.
For example, in April a few hundred apparently mostly Arab protesters from the North and other areas arrived at the unrecognized illegal Beduin settlement of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev to protest on Land Day, wave Palestinian flags, and hear vigorous speeches by Arab politicians and leaders against the state and its leaders.
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“Destroying Umm al-Hiran would be a declaration of war against Arabs of the Negev,” Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi told The Jerusalem Post at the rally.
Joint List MK and Balad head Jamal Zahalka told the Post that “if Israeli authorities try to expel the residents from the village, there will be a confrontation and people will come from all over the country to defend it.”
The comptroller’s report is also too optimistic, envisioning that one-third of the estimated 200,000 Beduin in Israel living in unrecognized settlements can be easily convinced to accept relocation, if only they gain economic benefits.
But this has been tried and failed for years.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel told The Jerusalem Post last year that he would first study the issue and then try to reach an agreement with the Beduin. A year later and still no policy or compromise is on the horizon.
Ariel’s predecessor, Yair Shamir, was less diplomatic, telling the Post that if no agreement were reached, the government would implement a plan “by force.”
In 2013, the government decided to suspend the Prawer- Begin Beduin resettlement bill, which had gained opponents on the Left and Right.
The Prawer-Begin bill was a five-year economic development initiative that sought to regulate Beduin settlement in the South. It aimed to find solutions for the tens of thousands of Beduin scattered in unrecognized villages throughout the Negev, legalizing 63 percent of claimed land.
But Beduin supporters opposed the bill, arguing that the legislation would result in up to 40,000 Beduin losing their land.
Opponents on the Right criticized the bill as too generous, saying the state would be giving away land for free that Beduin could not prove to be theirs in court.
However, the report did hit the nail on the head when it sounded the alarm bell, stating that the solution to the problem is “an issue of national importance of the first order.”
The current situation breeds lawlessness and crime and alienates these citizens further from the state, the report correctly noted.
It also was right when it called on the government to determine and implement a policy in coordination with the local Beduin. This would involve speeding up the settlement of land claims through the courts, or preferably negotiation with families or clans that are willing to deal.
“Until today, the Beduin Development Authority has no policy and each official works according to how they wish,” Amichai Yogev, southern director of the NGO Regavim – describing itself as seeking to ensure a responsible, legal and accountable use of the country’s land – told the Post.
“It is time that the authority will work under a uniform policy and we hope its new head, Yair Mayin, will succeed in doing so,” he added.
But again, it all comes back to the fact that no matter what the government does, if the Beduin do not cooperate to find a compromise solution, then force will be left as the only option.
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