The results of the recent Knesset election were finalized a mere five days ago. According to the new division of factions in the Knesset, it is almost certain that the soon-to-be-formed government will have a different political emphasis than that of the outgoing government. It is therefore puzzling that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in such a hurry to push through a controversial decision “to regulate the Bedouin settlement in the Negev” today when the transitional cabinet meets.
This cabinet decision, which seeks to resolve the situation of Bedouin communities that have been unrecognized for 60 years, deals mainly with ownership claims over land Bedouin purchased before the state was founded. According to tribal law, which was in force among the Bedouin at that time throughout the Negev, land deals were cinched by oral agreement. And although in the 1970s the Justice Ministry examined and approved as authentic most of these, Israeli law refused to recognize them due to lack of written proof.
The current cabinet decision, based on the Prawer Plan formulated in the Prime Minister’s Office, rejects some of the main Bedouin claims. Since the decision was passed in principle by the cabinet a year and a half ago, it has become clear that most of the Negev Bedouin are dead set against it. Not only does it reject their land claims, but it also threatens to demolish 20,000 huts and move the approximately 100,000 people living in them to communities that have not yet been built for them, and will probably not be able to take them in. While the cabinet decision to regulate Bedouin settlement does strive to assist the Bedouin population, it does not present specific steps to improve their economic situation, which is at the very bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.
A hasty and irresponsible cabinet decision will assure unrest in the Negev and ongoing international condemnation. The prime minister would do well to forgo presenting the decision Sunday to the outgoing cabinet. The complexity of the issue and the expected grave ramifications require more serious consideration and discussion in the new cabinet. An effort to hastily push through this decision in an opportunistic way could lead to disaster.