We should seemingly be grateful after former minister Benny Begin’s announcement that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had accepted his recommendation to table the planned legislation on relocating the Bedouin from their homes in the Negev.
The proposed Begin-Prawer bill never should have been born in the first place. It intended to grant 200,000 dunams (about 50,000 acres) to land thieves who had stolen it from the state, while ignoring the reasonable possibility that such a gift would only encourage the Bedouin to continue their pattern of taking over additional lands and then demanding ownership rights.
Why only seemingly? Because the State of Israel is now at a crossroad in its relations with the Bedouin population.
It is possible that the frightening dimensions of the theft of state lands by the Bedouin, and the assumption that the state will never truly deal with enforcing the law against them - and never demolish the 50,000 illegal buildings - are what caused a lover of Israel such as Benny Begin to surrender to thieves. But such a surrender would not have solved the problem of the Bedouin; it only would have intensified it.
In the Arab countries surrounding us - in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of the Bedouin; and in the kingdom of Jordan, whose king is a Bedouin from El Hejaz - they have never recognized Bedouin ownership of land. Their grazing rights have been recognized. Their rights to water have been arranged.
In Syria, for example, there was an attempt to establish cooperatives between the state and the Bedouin to arrange their settlement in certain areas – while leaving the ownership of the land in the hands of the state. In Egypt, the Bedouin right to own land has not been recognized, and only recently has their right to purchase land from the state been regularized.
Only in the Jewish state has the government been asked to grant huge tracts of land to the Bedouin, who took over state lands over the past decades and built tens of thousands of houses on them, in every place they wished.
Two paths lead out from here: the path of law and justice; and the path of anarchy.
Every Bedouin who has a claim for land must go to court and ask for his claim to be recognized. Whoever succeeds will receive whatever the court decides. Not a compromise on half the claim, but the entire claim. And if the claim is not recognized by the court - and that was the fate of hundreds of false claims raised by the Bedouin until now in the courts - they will be required to immediately leave the land they took by force. It is also possible that they may be required to pay the state court costs and fees for their illegal use of the land in their attempt to establish facts on the ground. The state will demolish what was built illegally.
And if the state does not do this, it is sealing its fate to anarchy, and the loss of the Negev and Galilee to thieves.
There is nothing in all this to prevent the state, or to exempt it, from honoring its commitments to its Bedouin citizens – to plan and build towns for them to live in, with infrastructures; to invest in the creation of jobs; and to build schools and clinics. At the same time, it must also enforce the law against them: collect taxes, including property tax; enforce traffic laws, and planning and construction laws.
This is the state’s obligation. If it does not do so, it will be abandoning the Bedouin to nationalist groups wanting to enlist them. The leaders of Hamas, Balad and United Arab List-Ta’al are eating away at them. Since if there is no government rule, then every bastard is a king.