The Israeli government is trying to wedge a divide within the Bedouin community in the Negev in order to seize its lands, Bedouin representatives said on Thursday, in response to a reported government initiative to settle the issue of unrecognized Bedouin settlements in southern Israel.
Earlier Thursday, a government team, assembled to review the recommendations of a state-ordained panel on the Bedouin lands, was reported to have prepared a plan according to which Bedouins who can prove a historical link to their land could receive financial compensation for some of their lot, which they would be able to continue cultivating.
If the Bedouins accept this offer, the extent of land that could be included in such a deal would reach approximately 150,000 dunams (about 40,000 acres), which amounts to less than half of the land the Bedouins lay claim for.
Dr. Awad Abu Farih, spokesman for the local committee for the unrecognized settlement of al-Arakib, criticized the reported deal, saying: "How can someone discuss the lives of tens of thousands of people in the Negev without involving them at all?"
"We want to study the offer and its consequences, but our principled position is to recognize all the unrecognized Bedouin settlements in the Negev, and nothing but that," Abu Farih said.
The al-Arakib spokesman accused the government of attempting to cause internal disputes among the Bedouin settlements, saying Israel was trying to implement a policy of "divide and conquer" on its Bedouin community.
Also commenting on the developing offer, Ibrahim al-Wakili, who heads the regional council of unrecognized Bedouin communities in the Negev, said that the offer does not answer the Bedouins claims at all.
"There are more than 45 unrecognized settlements on a large portion of land worth hundreds of thousands of dunams for decades," al-Wakili said, adding that the Bedouin demand remained "recognition of those settlements."
"The government isn't doing us a favor, we are living on our lands and this isn’t a gift from anyone," al-Wakili added, saying that the government has been trying "for years to huddle all of the Bedouins in one piece of land in an attempt to take over those tracts, and trying to seduce people with compensations and money."
However, al-Wakili said, "our land isn't for sale."
The government team was basing the developing deal on the recommendations of a committee on the status of the Negev Bedouin and headed by retired justice and former State Comptroller Eliezer Goldberg, that was appointed in late 2007.
The committee, which was appointed by former Housing Minister Zeev Boim in late 2007, also recommended to legalize some of the unrecognized Bedouin settlements.
A team at the Prime Minister's Office, however, did not accept this recommendation, saying that the status of Bedouin settlements would be determined according to an upcoming regional design plan.
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