Analysis: An impending clash with the Negev Beduin

Anyone who has followed the issue over the past few years knows that a compromise may not be possible.

Beduin women in Rahat, Israel. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Beduin women in Rahat, Israel.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Despite the government’s wish to negotiate a solution with the Negev Beduin for their resettlement, it is much more likely that such a deal is unreachable, leaving both sides on a trajectory for a big confrontation.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that he would first study the issue and then try to reach an agreement with the Beduin. However, anyone who has followed the issue over the past few years knows that a compromise may not be possible.
When asked if the government would implement its resettlement plan by force, if no agreement could be reached, the minister deftly dodged the question, reiterating that he would be seeking a deal.
Ariel’s predecessor Yair Shamir was less diplomatic, telling the Post that if no agreement was reached, the government would implement a plan “by force.”
Because a deal that suits both Ariel and the Beduin is likely not in the cards, either the government will work to impose a solution, or domestic and international pressure will stall any progress and the status quo will likely continue.
The first test could come if the government moves to implement the Supreme Court approval of the demolition of Umm al-Hiran and the eviction of its residents in order to build a Jewish town called Hiran.
Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, which has fought a legal struggle for 13 years to save Umm al-Hiran, said that it would evaluate the next steps it would take to defend the residents, working closely with villagers, human rights organizations, and others.
On the other hand, Regavim, an NGO “seeking to ensure responsible, legal and accountable use of national land,” argues that the eviction of residents illegally living on state land in Umm al-Hiran is perfectly legitimate.
“No country can be expected to allow for the wanton takeover of state land,” said Ari Briggs, international relations director of Regavim.
The Beduin, Arab MKs, and NGOs have clearly stated repeatedly that the only solution to the illegal or unrecognized settlements in the Negev is to legalize them. They rejected out of hand the Prawer-Begin bill, which was a compromise economic development initiative seeking to regulate Beduin settlement.
The plan aimed for a compromise solution for tens of thousands of Beduin scattered in unrecognized villages throughout the Negev, legalizing 63 percent of claimed land.
Beduin supporters opposed the bill, saying the legislation would result in up to 40,000 Beduin losing their land.
Opponents on the Right criticized it as too generous, saying the state would be giving away land for free, land that Beduin could not prove to be theirs in court.
Briggs told the Post that if the government does not stand strong in the face of local and international pressure, “it will come back to bite us on a bigger scale in a few more years.”
Regavim reacted relatively positively to the Prawer-Begin bill, he said, adding that its main objection related to additions and changes made to the plan by former minister Bennie Begin.
“Without the changes, it would have been a suitable compromise. We didn’t like everything in it and understand compromise is needed,” he said.
The Arabs and pro-Beduin NGOs working on this issue “don’t talk about compromise but only about receiving everything they have demanded,” added Briggs.
A source from an NGO in the Arab sector told the Post, “The Arab sector and the NGOs that support it would absolutely not accept the imposition of Beduin settlement by force.”
“To impose a solution would mean a struggle, not only internally but would include the international community,” warned the source.