The announcement by former minister Benny Begin that he was taking the bill for regulating Bedouin settlement in the Negev - known as the Prawer Plan - off the Knesset agenda caused a sigh of relief among the Bedouin residents of the unrecognized villages, whose vast majority opposed the bill. The proposed law was meant to relocate nearly 30,000 Bedouin to recognized communities in the Negev and proposed granting some compensation for the land claims of those who agree to resettle.
Despite the residents' joy at the shelving of the Prawer Plan, one should not mistake the burying of the bill as a sign that the problem has disappeared. The tens of thousands of Bedouin citizens of Israel living in the Negev's unrecognized villages will not rest on the laurels of their struggle against the bill and return to living modest lives without infrastructure or development in conditions appropriate for a Third World country and not a state that takes pride in being the Middle East's only democracy.
Begin lashed out at political opponents of the Prawer Plan on Thursday, saying that Jews and Arabs from the left and the right joined together to bring down the plan as a means to gather political capital. In fact, the Arab Knesset members and political parties among the opposition and the coalition who opposed the bill would likely partially agree with this statement. They have admitted that there was an intersection of interests to bring down the bill, even if there is a yawning ideological chasm between the two camps that opposed the Prawer Plan. The Bedouins opposed the plan on the grounds that it constituted theft of their land and the bill's right-wing opponents considered the plan too generous towards the Bedouin.
However, what Begin failed to mention or to comprehend was that opposition to the plan was not just political or party-based. Perhaps those who cooked up this thick gruel did not internalize the change taking place in Israeli Arab society, including those living in the Negev. A new generation is growing up in this society that is young, educated and not afraid of public struggle and doesn't believe in staying close to the herd. Matters that used to be resolved with the mukhtar, the village chief, the head of the tribe or notables of the Arab sector, will not sway youth today who believe in the justness of the struggle.
It is true that Arab society is split into factions and is sometimes divided by internal political and tribal struggles. But whoever follows the developments and processes taking place in this society understands that the topic of land is still one that unifies instead of divides. In almost every village, city and area of jurisdiction the local zoning plan and the housing crisis are burning issues. Consequently, the government and planning authorities should not be surprised by the opposition to the unclear plan that promised to regulate - not to recognize - Bedouin settlement. They should not be surprised by the opposition to a plan that was prepared in secret and most of its clauses not brought to the attention of the group supposed to be the directly affected by it.
Every citizen strives to make a living with dignity and to raise their family, but not in exchange for accepting the theft of their land. This is the equation that motivated the opposition, heightened suspicion among the Bedouin, unified the ranks against the plan and led to a public struggle that drew in many activists, political parties, non-profits and human rights organizations.
Many can chalk up to their credit the success in bringing down the bill, including those who opposed it on the right. But after the waves of rejoicing subside, everyone will need to think of the next step. Should lessons be drawn from the defeat of the bill and a new page in real and sincere discussions over recognition of Bedouin rights over land in the Negev or will there be a return to the recognized formula of enforcement and concealment that will lead to renewed conflict? The ball is in the government's court.
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