Arab MKs to Kerry: Beduin resettlement plan is 'ethnic cleansing'

UAL Ta'al MKs call on visiting US secretary of state to prevent Prawer-Begin bill; 1,500 protest in Beersheba.

Beduin women yelling 370 (photo credit: Amir Cohen/Reuters)
Beduin women yelling 370
(photo credit: Amir Cohen/Reuters)
Arab lawmakers asked US Secretary of State John Kerry to help stop the Prawer-Begin Beduin resettlement bill Thursday.
Meanwhile, MK Zvulun Kalfa (Bayit Yehudi) called for the Knesset to immediately halt debates on the bill, because the government, he said, was hiding information from MKs.
UAL-Ta’al MKs Ahmed Tibi, Ibrahim Sarsour, Masud Gnaim and Taleb Abu Arar, a Beduin who lives in the Negev, called the plan “discriminatory and [a] violation of international law.” They quoted UN and Amnesty International officials who condemned the bill, and asked for Kerry’s “immediate intervention to halt the proposed plan… designed to expel thousands of Palestinian citizens in Israel from their existing homes.”
The Prawer-Begin bill is a five-year economic development initiative seeking to regulate Beduin settlement in the South. The Beduin in question are tens of thousands of Israeli citizens, about 0.5% of whom serve in the IDF, who are scattered in villages that the government does not recognize throughout the Negev. The plan aims for a compromise solution that would legalize 63 percent of the claimed land.
Beduin and their supporters oppose the bill because they say the legislation would result in up to 40,000 Beduin losing their land, though the government hasn’t provided specific details of who would get what land in the plan.
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 court.
“Since developing this plan in 2009, Israel has destroyed more than 200 homes belonging to Palestinians in the Negev. Simply put, this plan constitutes ethnic cleansing. We seek your urgent attention in this matter,” the UAL-Ta’al MKs wrote to Kerry.
Also Thursday, Kalfa wrote a letter to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein demanding that Knesset Interior Committee meetings and all votes on the bill be frozen until the government agrees to greater transparency.
Kalfa said he had uncovered a July 2013 agreement between Doron Almog, director of the Directorate for Economic and Community Development of the Negev Beduin in the Prime Minister’s Office, and the Bayit Yehudi-controlled Construction and Housing Ministry that Almog did not report to the Knesset Interior Committee.
In response to an inquiry from The Jerusalem Post, Almog’s office said: “Contrary to what is claimed, the existence of the memorandum of understanding mentioned in your inquiry was not concealed and its principles were already published in the past. It will be submitted to the Internal Affairs Committee in its deliberations on the law which is so vital for developing the Negev for all its residents.”
The agreement lists which Beduin towns will be expanded, which new ones will be founded for Beduin and for Jews and what land will be given to Beduin demanding ownership. It also includes a map diagramming the details.
The document, which Almog sent to Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel, bears the signatures of Almog and then-National Security Council chairman Yaakov Amidror, and was sent before the committee began discussing the Prawer-Begin Bill last month.
The details of the document are similar to the terms of an agreement in May between Bayit Yehudi and the Prime Minister’s Office that the party’s ministers would vote in favor of the plan in cabinet meetings that took place then.
Bayit Yehudi sources would not confirm or comment on the similarities and whether Kalfa’s “discovery” was meant to insert the party’s agreement into the text of the bill. One party source suggested that Kalfa’s complaint was a delay tactic on legislation with which the party is uncomfortable.
“This is an ugly move made behind the backs of the Interior Committee members,” Kalfa wrote. “It cannot be that there’s a strategic discussion that is important on a national lever and the committee members are not exposed to, or are even intentionally kept away from the relevant information related to the legislation.”
Kalfa pointed out that one of the important roles of the Knesset is to supervise and review government activities.
“One of the central pillars of democracy is the independence and freedom of the legislative branch, and any attempt to harm that is inappropriate and must be condemned,” the Bayit Yehudi MK added.
Ariel Ben Solomon contributed to this report.