Israel Plans to Recognize Three Bedouin Villages. Welfare Groups Say Terms Make It Impossible

Though Israel passed a resolution to legalize three Bedouin villages, as part of the coalition deal with United Arab List, welfare groups argue that terms set by right-wing cabinet members block recognition from taking place

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The unrecognized Bedouin village of Rakhama, in 2019.
The unrecognized Bedouin village of Rakhama, in 2019.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Israeli cabinet approved a resolution on Wednesday that legalizes three Bedouin villages and approves the establishment of a new Bedouin urban center, though social welfare groups claim that a right-wing provision in the resolution will make it impossible to carry it out.

The resolution was forwarded as part of the coalition agreement the government signed with the United Arab List, which demanded Israel legalize the Bedouin communities of Abdih, Rakhama and Hashim Zanih, which were established without government authorization.

Though the United Arab List would like to present the recognition of these villages as a significant accomplishment on its part, social welfare organizations that have been in touch with the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry claim that the terms set for this recognition, added by right-wing members of Bennett’s government, will preclude it from coming to fruition.

Recognition of unrecognized Bedouin communities in the south is one of the most explosive issues in the current government headed by Bennett. According to the coalition agreement with the United Arab List, the suspension of illegal construction – a pause agreed to by the previous Netanyahu government – has been extended to the end of 2024. The coalition agreement also required the cabinet vote to recognize the three villages within 45 days of the government being established, a deadline that it missed.

The terms of the resolution stipulate that 70 percent of the Bedouin residents must agree to move within the boundaries of the newly recognized villages, which are not yet set.

On Tuesday, ahead of the cabinet vote, the groups sent a letter to Labor Minister Meir Cohen and his ministry’s director general, urging them to act immediately to change the text of the cabinet resolution. They asked the ministry to amend what they called “problematic conditions that could in practice prevent carrying out the recognition” and “doom it to failure.” The terms of the resolution could also have far-reaching implications on future recognition of other Bedouin villages and of Bedouin rights, the letter added.

The consent provision, the groups say, will require residents to unreasonably and “blindly” agree without knowing the boundaries or planning details of the newly recognized communities. The groups proposed that instead, the villages should be recognized in principle in order to build trust within the communities. Only after that would the necessary planning provisions for the communities be decided upon.

The organizations also object to a provision in the cabinet resolution that would revoke the recognition of the villages if the consent of 70 percent of the residents is not secured within seven years.

“Our effort to support the villages in the recognition and planning processes shows that they last for many years and involve considerable challenges,” the groups wrote. The timeframe combined with the conditions imposed by the cabinet resolution “almost certainly doom it to failure.”

Construction work in the Negev Bedouin village of Umm Batin, in March.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Another provision states that within 60 days, the authorities must consider curbing the boundaries of the existing permanent communities. The social welfare groups criticize the requirement as improperly linking what they claim are two separate issues – the recognition of the three villages and curtailing the villages’ permanent borders.

“It’s difficult to ignore the deep discrimination enshrined in this provision that necessarily links the recognition of new Arab communities and the residents’ ownership of the land, to Arab citizens’ forgoing other land.” The groups say that the residents “have suffered and are still suffering from severe discrimination – despite the recognition – in [government] funding and resources.”

In the interim, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked sought to link the recognition of the villages to recognition of unauthorized Jewish outposts in the West Bank. During his tenure as economy minister in the prior Netanyahu government, Amir Peretz sought to obtain recognition of the three Bedouin villages, but that effort also failed due to demands by right-wing parties to accompany it with the recognition of West Bank outposts.

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