Israeli coalition parties join forces to reduce land allocated to Bedouin

Parties agree to put a five-year time limit on the evacuation of the unrecognized Bedouin villages. Rights groups warn that if the government plan is implemented, some 30,000 Palestinian-Bedouin will be expelled from their homes and resettled in unsuitable townships.

A woman of the al-Qian Bedouin tribe stands in front of a house in the unrecognized village of Um al-Hiram (photo: Yossi Gurvitz)
A woman of the al-Qian Bedouin tribe stands in front of a house in the unrecognized village of Um al-Hiram (photo: Yossi Gurvitz)

Members of the four leading coalition parties have reached an agreement that would further cut the land designated for resettlement of the Bedouin population in the Negev (Naqeb), Israeli daily Maariv reports.

Israeli governments have been working on a policy that would solve the issue of the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev for the past decade. Under the latest plan – commonly referred to as the Prawer plan – the government would forcibly expel between several thousand (according to the government) and up to 30,000 Palestinian Bedouin from their current villages, while several villages will be recognized and become eligible for government services and infrastructure.

The Bedouin who are slated to be removed from their homes will receive monetary compensation and offered new houses in existing townships.

Today, however, Maariv reports that prominent members of Knesset from all major coalition parties agreed to further limit the Prawer Plan. MKs from Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, Netanyahu’s Likud and the settlers’ Jewish Home decided to remove modifications made in the plan by former Minister Benny Begin, who was appointed by the previous government to adjust the initial outline to the needs of the population on the ground.

While Bedouin leaders and rights groups weren’t satisfied with Mr. Begin’s work, his negotiations with the local population were scrutinized by the Right, which demanded the government forcefully evacuate most of the unrecognized villages, and opposed any negotiations with the local Bedouin citizens.

The coalition parties agreed to remove much of the land Mr. Begin promised the Bedouin, and also to place a five-year limit for removing the population from their current homes and resettling them into the zones designated under the old Prawer Plan. During this period, Bedouin can appeal their individual cases to the courts, but all remaining Bedouin land claims will be erased after five years.

Around 65,000 Palestinian Bedouin citizens of Israel live in 59 unrecognized villages in the Negev, partly because Israel decided not to recognize many Bedouin claims to land in the early years of the state. Other unrecognized villages came into being as a result of population transfers and migration in the 1948 War the years after.

Deprived of government services and infrastructure, the villages expanded in an unorganized and unplanned fashion, resulting in claims that the Bedouin are “taking over” the Negev.

In the 1970s, the government encouraged the Bedouin population to register their land claims, but those claims weren’t recognized.

The Prawer Plan represents the largest effort to resettle a Palestinian population in an area under Israeli control (including the Occupied Territories) today. It is unclear what degree of cooperation or resistance the Bedouin population will show if the government proceeds with implementing the plan. The latest development, however, increases the likelihood of a confrontation between the Bedouin and the government.

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