A Bedouin community in the Misgav Regional Council (Moti Shani)
A Bedouin community in the Negev. Photo by Moti Shani
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government is likely to drop the current version of its controversial plan to relocate thousands of Negev Bedouin into already recognized villages, after it emerged that community leaders did not consent to the proposal despite claims to the contrary.

Coalition chairman MK Yariv Levin believes that the current form of the Prawer plan for regulating Bedouin settlement in the Negev will be shelved. Due to the revelation that former MK Benny Begin, who drew up the plan, did not approach the Bedouin themselves with the plan and did not receive their approval, there is no longer a coalition majority supporting the plan, Levin said.

“There’s no chance of approving the second and third reading of the Prawer bill in its present form, because there is no justification to do so," he said.

Levin also said that the bill allows for unprecedented and unjustified benefits for the Bedouin population. “We agreed to promote the bill only because Benny Begin said that he discussed the plan with Bedouin representatives and that it was the only outline they would agree to, and that, as far as they’re concerned the implementation of the bill would put an end to all their claims for land. Today it was revealed that he did not discuss the matter with them, and did not receive their support.”

The current plan should undergo vast changes, Levin said, and not be presented to the Knesset plenum for the second and third reading in the next few months.

“The present bill should be changed significantly. I’m willing to be generous to the Bedouin that would immediately agree to join the process. Whoever won’t agree should be forcefully placed in the areas allotted to Bedouin. The agreement to join the generous outline should be limited in time, and is should be determined that the lands would only be leased to the Bedouins, not registered with the land authority as their property.”

MK Dov Khenin [Hadash] demanded on Monday to halt the promotion of the Prawer bill and formulate a different bill that would address the Bedouins’ problems in the Negev. Khenin slammed the Attorney General’s decision to conceal from the Knesset’s Interior and Environment Committee a map depicting future Bedouin dwelling areas in the Negev.

“The map that was revealed at the Interior Committee proved that all our fears were justified. The Prawer plan offers an array of means to fight the Bedouin and actually drive out thousands of them from their homes and villages. The government concealed this map from the Bedouins. The government concealed this map from the Knesset. During recent weeks we have demanded to see it. Such a map and its content cannot be accepted, nor can the fact that it was concealed. When the government misleads the Knesset we cannot cooperate with such a move. I call on the Interior Committee to halt the discussion on the Prawer bill, and begin a debate that would offer concrete and real solutions to the problems of the Bedouin in the Negev.”

The discussions Monday emerged after former cabinet minister Benny Begin, who in the previous government was in charge of gathering and implementing public responses to proposals to resettle Negev Bedouin, said on Monday that he never presented the resulting bill to representatives of the Bedouin community and did not ask for their positions on the matter. The draft law is commonly known as the Prawer plan or the Begin-Prawer plan.

“I wish to again make clear that contrary to what has been claimed in recent weeks, I didn’t tell anyone that the Bedouin agreed to my plan,” Begin said. “I couldn’t say that because I didn’t present the plan to them. I didn’t present the bill that I revised to any segment of the public, including the Bedouin. The revised bill is not being presented again to the public to hear whether the amendments are to its liking or not. As a result, I would not be able to know to what extent they support the law.”

Begin made the comments to the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee and read a letter that he sent to coalition chairman Yariv Levin on the matter. Begin said it was about two years ago, in talks with the Bedouin while he was working on the bill and before it was presented in its current form, that he said “the public in the Negev does not oppose the law and did not take part in the provocations that the Balad party organized a week [earlier].”

Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, expressed this position several days ago, before Begin was quoted as saying that he didn’t discuss his plan with the Bedouin.

In a post in his Facebook page last week, Lieberman wrote: "We were essentially opposed to the ‘Prawer plan’, but eventually agreed to support it, after former minister Benny Begin said that the plan received the support of all Bedouin tribe leaders and would therefore put an end to this business once and for all. In reality, the opposite happened, as we feared, and the Bedouin are interested in receiving not only the ‘carrot’ – compensation and other lands – but are also active, in all means, including violence, against the ‘stick’ – their duty to evacuate all the lands they have populated illegally. Therefore, one should re-examine the plan and consider a far reaching plan that would annul the benefits the Bedouin were to receive. If there isn’t complete agreement – there should be no benefits.”