Prime Minister Biyamin Netanyahu at cabinet meeting 370 (R).
(photo credit: Kobi Gideon / GPO)
On Sunday, in a move both grave and alarming, the cabinet, by a vote of 16 for,
3 against and 1 abstention, approved far-reaching changes to the legislation
dealing with the reorganization of Beduin settlement in the Negev. It seems most
ministers were not given the time or had the wherewithal to study the proposed
amendments and were also not prepared to take on an implacable prime minister when the next government’s ministerial positions are in the process of being
The first stage of the present incarnation of the attempt to
organize Beduin settlement in the Negev took place in 2007, when the Goldberg
Commission was appointed. The commission deliberated for a year before
publishing its recommendations, which became known as the Goldberg Report. Since
that time, an implementation team, headed by the Prime Minister’s Office
director for policy planning, Udi Prawer, has been working on the
The team’s conclusions, known as the “Prawer Outline,” were
presented to the government for discussion at the end of 2011. The government
held a number of discussions in the framework of implementation and, after
several delays, the outline was approved, subject to a number of significant
It is important to mention that the three processes
described above were carried out after consultation with the Beduin population
and with its cooperation, as well as that of a number of leftist NGO’s that
claim to represent the Beduin’s best interests.
SOON AFTER the approval
of the outline by the government, the Justice Ministry published a voluminous
proposed legislation, and the public was invited to submit its reservations
within 60 days. At the same time, Minister Bennie Begin began a “listening”
In this framework he met with representatives of the Beduin and
leftist groups and heard their positions on the program for the nth time.
Begin’s conclusions included a number of significant changes to the government’s
outline, and in recent months these changes were solidified in secret, resulting
in a revised version of the legislation.
The changes were kept absolutely
secret, and all of Regavim’s attempts to get hold of them came to
Apparently, it was important to someone to keep these changes
shrouded in darkness, far from the public eye, and thus prevent any serious
discussion on the subject.
This past Thursday, late in the afternoon, a
100-page-plus proposal – including 20 pages laying out Begin’s conclusions and
68 pages detailing the revised proposed legislation – was circulated among the
government ministers through their offices.
THIS IS doubtless one of the
most complicated and involved issues that has been on the public agenda in
recent years. Diving into the complex wording of the proposed legislation and
understanding the meaning of each adjustment requires both skill and a great
deal of time, even for one already familiar with the material.
late hour of the afternoon, at the end of the working week that also included
elections, it is highly likely that most of the ministers would not have
received the material or had a chance to review it. It should be noted that,
according to government regulations, the government secretariat must publicize
the cabinet meeting’s agenda no later than the Wednesday prior to Sunday’s
Did someone have an interest in the least number of
ministers possible being given the chance to become acquainted with the material
before the vote? Judge for yourselves.
The cabinet’s decision to approve
the amendments to the legislation is a clear case of underhanded opportunism,
and it is difficult to free oneself of the feeling that the individual, who was
perceived to be the symbol and compass of government propriety and dedication to
democracy in the past few years, trampled every norm of proper administration on
the way to what he considered to be correct and good for the State of
If we add to this the fact that we are speaking of a transition
government that no longer enjoys the confidence of the Knesset, we have a
decision that is both immoral and illegitimate, and according to our estimation,
illegal as well.
It is clear to us that the government succumbed to
pressure. The governments response to this pressure is a clear message to the
Beduin and their left wing NGO supporters – the more pressure you apply,
directly and by taking this issue international to foreign governments and the
media, the more you'll get.
IT IS obvious to us that even though this
government decision gave the Beduin an additional gift of 100,000 dunams (10,000
hectares) of the Negev on top of the 150,000 dunams already proposed they have
no intention of accepting this latest “offer”. This proposal also does not solve
the core of the issues in the Negev, which has to be both right and practical
and take into account the interest of the State of Israel and the needs of the
Although the legislation with Begin’s amendments needs
to be passed by the new Knesset, following the cabinet approval, the
bureaucracy, including teams of surveyors and engineers, will continue their
work on implementing this new plan because this is how things happen around
here!! As such, Regavim will go back to the Supreme Court and submit a new
petition to reverse the government decision, and we would like to believe that
the judges in Jerusalem will do justice and cancel this decision. If the court’s
ruling disappoints as well, we can only hope the next government will find the
courage to reverse this decision and save the Negev before it is too
late.The writer is the director of operations at Regavim. Regavim is an
NGO whose mission is to ensure the responsible, legal and environmentally
friendly use of Israel’s national lands and the return of the rule of law to all
areas and aspects of the land and its preservation.