Pro-Beduin groups lobby against Prawer-Begin plan

Labor MK Omer Bar-Lev tells 'Post' that over the years, the Beduin issue had been avoided and as a result, the problem became worse.

June 18, 2013 01:57
4 minute read.
BEDUIN WOMEN take part in a protest in Beersheba.

Beduin women yelling 370. (photo credit: Amir Cohen/Reuters)

Pro-Beduin NGOs lobbied on Monday at the Knesset against the Prawer- Begin plan, which seeks to regulate Arab settlement in the Negev. Labor MK Omer Bar-Lev, who heads the Beduin lobby, told The Jerusalem Post that over the years, the Beduin issue had been avoided and as a result, the problem became worse.

Bar-Lev noted that it was a sensitive issue and that the proposed Prawer- Begin law “is not fair enough and it needs many changes.” He said that despite the coalition considerations, he thinks the bill could pass, but that “extremists on both sides are blocking a negotiated solution.”

Asked about the opposition from the right, which argues that the bill is too generous and does not stop continued illegal Beduin building and the estimated Interior Ministry statistics which sight 2,000 additional illegal structures per year, Bar-Lev responded that this is a “populist argument” and that “if you read the law, you will see that this is not the case.”

Told by the Post that it seemed as if the two parties are too far apart for a negotiated settlement, the Labor MK responded, “A lot of the time we hear the people on both extremes, but not the people in the middle.” He added that the politicians have to come to an agreement and each side must compromise.

Israeli Arab Balad MK Jamal Zahalka told the Post, “I think it is naïve to think about a compromise.”

“There is pressure on the government to make the law more extreme and that is why the Bayit Yehudi party is keeping the plan from coming to a vote in the Knesset,” he said. “We are ready to negotiate if the Prawer-Begin law is set aside and a new effort is made to come to an agreement through direct negotiations between the Beduin community and the state.”

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Doron Almog, the director of the headquarters for the economic and community development of the Negev Beduin in the Prime Minister’s Office told the Post that a legal solution is required to solve the Beduin issue.

He said that the Prawer-Begin plan is fair and that during future Knesset debate further changes and compensation may be added. He noted that the Goldberg Commission – which put together the 2008 report that was the basis for the Prawer-Begin plan – concluded three things. First, Eliezer Goldberg, who chaired the commission, said that the Beduin did not have legal land ownership of the land; second, that he recommended that the state come to a compromise with the Beduin; and third, there needed to be a law to solve the problem quickly.

“A law is a tool,” said Almog emphasizing that once there was a law, it could be enforced and that he believes it can pass in the Knesset.

If the law is not passed then the amount of available land will continue to decrease and the situation will continue to deteriorate.

He noted that 85 percent of the Beduin do not own the land where they are currently residing. Despite this, he said the government was willing to compromise and some Beduin are open to a deal. “The state is ready to invest a lot to resettle them and in compensation,” he said.

Asked if the plan is enforceable if it becomes law, he responded, “We know what to do against those that won’t agree. The goal is to improve the quality of life of the Beduin,” said Almog asserting that the goal is to bring the Negev under the laws of the state.

Ari Briggs, the international relations director of Regavim, an NGO that states that it seeks to ensure responsible, legal and accountable use of Israel’s national land, told the Post that there should be no further compromise on the government’s part.

“The Beduin as a whole have not accepted a compromise in the 40 years Israel has been offering solutions.

NGO’s funded by the New Israel Fund and others have been telling them not to compromise, that they will get what they want if they hold out,” said Briggs. He added that so called “pro-Beduin NGOs” are telling the Beduin to just say no, promising they will get everything they want.

“The Beduin would have come to an agreement by now had it not been for the training these NGOs promote.

Postponing a compromise agreement has also meant that dealing with the more crucial socio-economic issues of the Beduin have been postponed,” said Briggs.

In response to Bar-Lev’s dismissal of the statistic that 2,000 illegal structures are being built each year in the Negev, Briggs said that he is certain the number is correct. The figures from the Interior Ministry are backed up by Regavim’s research, he added that all one needs to do is look at the illegal building within the 11 newly legalized Abu Basma Beduin settlements. The government retroactively legalized thousands of buildings to test the possibility of the local population to abide by obligations expected of any citizen. However, a continued contempt for the law is clear in any visit to these villages, Briggs said.

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