The outcry from across the political spectrum against the government’s
controversial Prawer-Begin plan, which seeks to regulate Arab settlement in the
Negev, does not faze Maj.- Gen. (res.) Doron Almog. Like any good military
leader, he is focused on carrying out the task before him, which is to implement
the modernization, resettlement and legalization of the South’s Beduin
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Monday in his office at
the Prime Minister’s Office – where he has been in charge of the department that
handles Beduin issues since 2012 – Almog went directly to the heart of the
issue. Stating bluntly that the courts had not proven Beduin land claims, he
said that nevertheless, the government- sponsored plan – which narrowly passed
its first reading in the Knesset last month – offered the Beduin a fair
compromise to settle the matter once and for all. That compromise involves
recognizing around 63 percent of Beduin land claims, offering compensation
payments, and providing new, fully-functioning communities.
His role, he
said, is to make sure that the government plans for solving the Beduin conflict
“Israel has lost governance [in the Beduin sector in the
Negev],” he said. “Most do not pay taxes, and around 100,000 are living in
All together, there are around 200,000 Beduin in the
Negev, he said, declaring the current situation “unsustainable.”
denied claims from some NGOs that the government was not working with the Beduin
for a solution. The government is not pursuing a unilateral plan, but seeking to
cooperate with them, he said, adding that his team was guiding all government
activity on the ground and was sending Arabic-speaking mediators to negotiate
with the Beduin on the government’s behalf.
He insisted that there were
Beduin willing to accept a compromise.
As an example, he pointed out that
one tribal leader, who served in the IDF, had come to him with an agreement to
bring all of his people to live in one community of 150 hectares (370 acres),
instead of the 2,000 hectares (4,942 acres) that they had previously
However, Almog said the Arab political leadership and other
NGOs were working against any such compromise solution. These forces want to
“make a linkage between the Palestinian conflict and the Beduin conflict,” he
His office works together with the Beduin Development Authority,
which deals specifically with the land issue and has offices in
Almog says his office is focusing on improving the living
standards of the Beduin youth – who are more open to integrating into the state
and modernity – by improving employment opportunities, education and
transportation, among other initiatives.
The problem of land claims, he
said, concerned 35 unrecognized Arab villages. He avoided going into detail
about the hundreds of other illegal settlements present in the Negev, stating
simply that the Beduin were included in the state’s plans for the area, which
took into account that the Beduin population was doubling every 15
Responding to skepticism about the likelihood of the law’s
implementation, Almog said that the Beduin were equal citizens, with the
accompanying rights and obligations.
The new law calls for a five-year
period to settle the land claims and legal processes.
be used as a last resort,” he said. “The end state of this program” will see the
Beduin living legally in “modern communities.”
However, Thabet Abu Rass,
the head of the Negev branch of Arab legal rights group Adalah, told the Post
Tuesday that “the current plan being considered is all about imposing a plan on
the Beduin, which they never talked to anybody about” when making
Only after the plan was finished and “under pressure from us and
other NGOs did they appoint [former minister] Bennie Begin to listen to
grievances,” he said, arguing that Begin had just marketed the plan the same way
that Almog’s mediators were marketing it.
He said Almog’s negotiators
were really just pressuring the Beduin to move to one of the recognized Beduin
settlements because they had no other options, as their villages would be
Regarding a plan to extend Highway 6 as part of the
government’s development of the Negev, Rass complained that the planned
construction called for destroying several villages.
“Nobody took them
[the Beduin] into consideration,” he said. “The issue is that the Israeli
government is offering different options to Jewish citizens than to the Beduin.
This is the truth.”
He stressed that “we support development and have
been screaming [about] this case for many years.” The state had neglected the
Beduin for decades, he said, so “why the rush now to solve a sensitive issue in
a few years?”
Amichai Yogev, southern regional director of the NGO Regavim –
which describes itself as seeking to ensure responsible, legal and accountable
use of the country’s land – told the Post
on Tuesday that if the Prawer-Begin
law passed as it was now, there was no way to know exactly how it would be
“The plan does not mention which villages will be destroyed
and which ones will be legalized,” he said, emphasizing that it seemed Almog and
the government would be able to carry out the plan the way they wanted, without
Yogev thinks a real possibility is that the Beduin
will not agree to move, and he said Almog was not willing to say what he would
do if the plan did not work out.
“Almog says his plan is the only option
available, but there are other options that are a lot better,” he
Regarding Rass’s claim that state building favored Jews over
Beduin, Yogev claimed this was not true.
“Ask how much money goes to the
Beduin and how much to Jews,” he said, noting that billions of shekels were
budgeted for the Beduin, yet there was a lack of plans to build new Jewish
settlements in the Negev.