Shamir to ‘Post’: Changes will be made to Beduin resettlement plan before new push

NGO and Arab MKs meet with US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro to discuss issue; Stones thrown at bus carrying Israeli diplomats on tour of Negev.

Demonstration against Prawler plan Beduin (photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
Demonstration against Prawler plan Beduin
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir, who took over responsibility on Sunday from former minister Bennie Begin for handling the Beduin land issue for the government, is looking to make changes to the Prawer- Begin Bill before pushing for its passage.
Shamir, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, said that his first objective would be to gain the Beduin’s trust and negotiate with them, but if no agreement was reached, the government would implement a plan “by force.”
He explained that all sides protesting against the Prawer-Begin plan have lost sight of the main issue, which is that citizens of the state have been “living in poverty; in third-world conditions, and we have to change it.”
Shamir took a tour of the Negev on Tuesday and met with Beduin and relevant government representatives.
He said he wanted to freeze the legislative process in order to give him time to study the complex issue and formulate a solution.
The bill, set to be revised, is a five-year economic development initiative seeking to regulate Beduin settlement in the Negev. It aims for a compromise solution for tens of thousands of Beduin currently scattered in unrecognized villages – legalizing 63 percent of land claims.
Beduin supporters oppose the bill because they say it would result in up to 40,000 Beduin losing their land.
Meanwhile, 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.
The price we have to pay for an agreement is a secondary issue, said Shamir.
Asked whether the revised plan would have a detailed map delineating who gets what, something lacking in the Prawer-Begin Bill, he said it would.
The NGOs and Arab MKs that claim to be supporting the Beduin “really do not care about the Beduin,” said Shamir, but are interested in gaining political clout, “and we and the Beduin should not allow that.”
Asked if he has been in contact with organizations that feel that the plan was too generous to the Beduin, he responded that he has been in touch with the Regavim – an NGO seeking to ensure responsible, legal and accountable use of national land – and told it that it needs to look at the “whole picture” and think about how much this issue could cost in the future if it isn’t fixed now.
Shamir insists that by using financial incentives the government could find many Beduin who would come to an agreement with it.
“A lot of them are eager for a solution,” he said, adding that some Beduin contacted him after his appointment, telling him not to believe those saying the Beduin will reject a deal.
Ari Briggs, international relations director of Regavim, told the Post, “Regavim is happy that the government has not thrown up its hands in surrender, and is continuing to work on ensuring that the rule of law is returned to the Negev.”
Thabet Abu Rass, head of the Negev branch of Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, told the Post that he and United Arab List-Ta’al MKs Ahmed Tibi and Taleb Abu Arar met with Daniel Shapiro, the US ambassador, about the issue on Tuesday.
This issue “has the potential of inflaming Arab-Jewish relations and could threaten the Israel-Palestinian peace talks,” Abu Rass said.
“Israel is pushing a very aggressive policy; it needs a change of policy or nothing will change,” he said. “The government needs to respect the Beduin and stop demolishing houses.”
Responding to the claim that most Beduin would support a government plan, Abu Rass said that Begin himself “acknowledged that the Beduin did not agree to the plan.”
In related news, a bus carrying around 100 Israeli diplomats on a Foreign Ministry tour of the Negev was stoned on Tuesday.
No one was injured, but one of the buses was damaged.
Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who participated in the trip, said the incident was minor and the atmosphere during the tour had been friendly. No one was injured, but one of the buses was damaged, Israel Radio reported. There is a silent majority of the Beduin who oppose attempts by extremists to incite against the state, he said.