A Bedouin community in the Misgav Regional Council (Moti Shani)
A Bedouin community in the Negev. Photo by Moti Shani
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A proposal for a final arrangement clarifying Bedouin's controversial land rights in the northern Negev is due to be submitted to the cabinet at the end of the month, Haaretz has learned.

The cabinet is expected to approve legislation enabling the arrangement's implementation and recognize the Bedouin's rights on approximately 150,000 dunams (some 38,000 acres ), less than half the land the Bedouin claim ownership of.

The Bedouin's representatives yesterday reacted angrily to the proposed arrangement. "How can officials in the Prime Minister's Office discuss the affairs of tens of thousands of Bedouin without consulting them at all?" asked Dr. Awad Abu Freih, spokesman of the unrecognized village Al Arakib.

"We would like to study the proposal and its implications, but we demand the state recognizes all the Bedouin villages in the Negev and their land," he said.

A team in the PMO has completed in recent months a plan to implement the recommendations of a committee headed by retired Justice Eliezer Goldberg to clarify the Bedouin's rights to live in the Negev. The committee submitted its recommendations to the cabinet some two years ago.

The implementation team recommends that Bedouin who prove their historic affiliation to the land (among other things by living on it and farming it for a long time ) will be eligible for financial compensation for some of the land. They will be able to continue farming it.

Regardless of this arrangement, the Bedouin will be entitled to live in communities the state will recognize.

Today seven large townships in the Negev house about half the Bedouin population. The remaining half lives in 46 unrecognized villages with deficient infrastructure and construction the state deems illegal.

The Bedouin population's growth rate is 5.5 percent, and the population is expected to double every 13 years.

The Goldberg committee recommended a process to legalize some of the unrecognized villages. But the implementation team in the PMO rejected this, stating the unrecognized villages' issue will be solved as part of a regional master plan currently being drawn up.

This master plan earmarks land on which some of the unrecognized villages can be planned and legalized. However, it does not provide housing solutions for all the Bedouin diaspora. The Bedouin, who demand the state recognize all their villages, are expected to object to it.

The cabinet is also expected to allocate a budget, estimated at NIS 1 billion, for planning and building infrastructure for the Bedouin.

The implementation team intends to submit its arrangement as the state's final move, implying that anyone who refuses to cooperate with it and continues to make illegal use of the land will be dealt with harshly.

Abu Freih said yesterday the proposal will lead to arguments and fights among the Bedouin communities, "which is what the government wants. It's a divide-and-rule policy toward the Bedouin community."

Ibrahim Al-Wakili, head of the council for the unrecognized villages in the Negev, said the plan looks grandiose but fails to fulfill the Bedouin's demands. "There are more than 45 unrecognized villages on hundreds of thousands of dunams that have existed there for decades. We demand they are recognized. We are living on our lands - they're not a gift from anyone. The state has been trying to take it over for years, trying to tempt people off the land with money. Our land is not for sale," he said.