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The vice bulldozer, Shimon Peres, an energetic tractor in his own right, came to the Negev two weeks ago to get things moving. As part of his responsibility for the development of the Negev and the Galilee, Peres visited the Ramat Hovav industrial area to try to expedite the treatment of the environmental problems that have developed at the site over the years.

The treatment is supposed to facilitate the establishment of the "city of training bases" which the army plans to create after it gives up training bases in the Center region. The cleanup is an important project which would raise the quality of life for residents of the area by preventing pollution from the industrial zone. But Peres should immediately direct his energies toward another goal that is no less important: resolving the planning and housing problems of Bedouin and other Arab communities in the Galilee and Negev.

The communities have a long list of problems, relating to all areas of life. They suffer from long-standing and systematic deprivation, which is also expressed in their failure to attract the attention of senior government officials. The problem of construction planning is especially prominent and onerous, affecting the environment and their quality of life.

Legal issues affecting construction have not been resolved in the Arab communities in Israel, and their sewage and waste infrastructure continues to be of poor quality. The situation of the Bedouin in the Negev is particularly severe. Approximately half of this population lives at 150 sites, 46 of which are villages that are not recognized by the state. Each of these 46 unrecognized villages has at least 500 residents.

Lacking proper disposal of sewage and garbage, the unrecognized villages have become environmental and health hazards. The spread of illegal construction in the absence of authorized planning solutions only exacerbates the problem.

Uncontrolled grazing near the unrecognized villages, endemic pollution, and the widespread hunting of wild animals, which the atmosphere of lawlessness encourages, has turned large parts of the Negev into an ecological wasteland. The loess plains typical of the region, once rich in flora and fauna, are being destroyed at an accelerating rate.

It will not be easy to solve the complex of problems of a unique cultural population like the Negev Bedouin in a way that grants them the rights they deserve as citizens while also subjecting them to basic obligations like building according to the law and observing environmental regulations. The first step must be to convince the Bedouin that the state sees them as equals. That is, to stop treating them as a threat.

This negative attitude finds particular expression in the policy advocating Jewish settlements and individual homesteads in every corner of the Negev, to "block" Bedouin expansion. While Bedouin have been unsuccessful in winning official status for unrecognized villages, Jews are building new settlements, despite the fact that thousands of apartments remain empty in existing Jewish communities.

The vice premier can choose from a rich basket of proposals formulated by various groups over the years, including recognizing the Bedouin villages and permitting Bedouin to move to agricultural communities, not just to urban settlements like Rahat and Tel Sheva.

There are various proposals to address the demands of the Bedouin to recognize their ownership of land in the Negev; the implementation of these proposals must be based on the agreement and cooperation of the Bedouin. The government has already begun to recognize a number of villages and has established the first Bedouin regional council.

However, these steps represent only a partial solution and do not address the problems of the population as a whole. For this, resources are required, as well as planning and legal coordination. Peres should act in this direction. His contribution to the development of the Negev should include more than the establishment of a nuclear reactor and a city of army bases, but also the salvation of the relationship between residents of the Negev and their government.

The Bedouin, for their part, will need to present leadership that rises above tribal disputes for the sake of common interests and that is prepared to accept planning solutions appropriate for the current period instead of for the reality that existed in the Negev prior to the establishment of the state.