Yaakov Amidror
Yaakov Amidror. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently instructed National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror to reexamine the Bedouin land reform report submitted by the Prime Minister's Office director General Eyal Gabbai a few weeks ago.

The report outlines the government's plan to relocate some 30,000 Bedouin from unrecognized villages in the Negev to expanded areas of existing Negev Bedouin towns such as Rahat, Kseifa and Hura.

The report apparently raised strong objections from ministers claiming the plan would hand over state lands to the Bedouin. It has also drawn fire from the left, the Bedouin representatives and human rights groups, such as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights in Israel.

T Gabbai and Ehud Prawer, the head of policy planning in the Prime Minister's Office, worked on the report for two years. During their work several ministers attended lectures and briefing sessions and raised no objection to the the plan.

But after the report was submitted to the prime minister and before it was voted on, a few ministers headed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman asked to postpone the debate on the matter to give them time to study the material. Other ministers asked Netanyahu to hold another debate on the issue before bringing the report to a vote. Amidror also raised reservations about the report.

The prime minister's aides said there was no intention to revoke the report, which would be brought to the cabinet for approval in the coming weeks, after Amidror reexamined a number of issues. They refused to say which ones.

"The plan Gabbai advanced is excellent and comprehensive and the prime minister has accepted it," the statement from the prime minister's bureau said.

Gabbai announced his resignation about a week ago. It will be effective August 1. One of Gabbai's main reasons for resigning, despite the prime minister's attempts to change his mind, appears to be Netanyahu's decision to appoint Amidror to reexamine the report.

The plan, estimated to cost NIS 6-8 billion, calls for transplanting about 40 percent of the 71,000 Negev Bedouin. The relocated Bedouin would receive both monetary compensation and alternate land.

The unrecognized Bedouin villages' council, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Adalah were shocked to hear that Amidror and the National Security Council (NSC ) were involved in the plan to relocate the Bedouin.

"The NSC's involvement shows the government is being conducted like in the military regime era, insisting on treating the Bedouin as a security risk," a member of one human rights group said.

Dr. Thabet Abu Ras, Adalah's Negev project director, said "this is an outrageous, inexplicable decision. Instead of reexamining the report together and in consultation with the Bedouin residents, the prime minister is handing over its implementation to a man in charge of security considerations, who is not familiar with the planning aspects."

Noam Tirosh, coordinator of the Negev Coexistence Forum, an NGO which promotes cooperation between the Jewish and Bedouin communities in the Negev, said, "Israel's disgraceful treatment of the state's Bedouin nationals continues. For decades committees have been formed and dispersed while the Negev Bedouin remain in their predicament."

However, Tirosh commended the move to revoke the Prawer report "which means transferring 30,000 Bedouin from the unrecognized villages to rundown townships, afflicted with unemployment and poverty."