Right wing members of the Israeli Knesset have confirmed their opposition to the Prawer bill, a plan to regulate Palestinian Bedouin settlement in the Naqab desert, also known as the Negev, and are now recommending that the bill should be halted after it emerged that community leaders did not consent to the proposal despite the government’s claims to the contrary.
According to Haaretz newspaper, Israel’s coalition chairman MK Yariv Levin, a member of Likud, “believes that the current form of the Prawer plan for regulating Bedouin settlement in the Negev will be shelved [due] to the revelation that former MK Benny Begin, who drew up the plan, did not approach the Bedouin themselves with the plan and did not receive their approval.”
As a result, Levin noted that “there is no longer a coalition majority supporting the plan.”
The newspaper quoted Begin as saying that: “I wish to again make clear that contrary to what has been claimed in recent weeks, I didn’t tell anyone that the Bedouin agreed to my plan. I couldn’t say that because I didn’t present the plan to them. I didn’t present the bill that I revised to any segment of the public, including the Bedouin. The revised bill is not being presented again to the public to hear whether the amendments are to its liking or not. As a result, I would not be able to know to what extent they support the law.”
The revelation, along with the right wing’s response, severely undermines the argument that Israel has presented to the international media and community insisting that the Prawer bill is a developmental project intended to better the lives of Bedouin in the Naqab, who currently live without basic services because the government refuses to recognise their villages.
However Levin’s own objection to the bill is not necessarily based on the fact that it was never agreed to by the Bedouin population, but more because the bill allows for what he calls unprecedented and unjustified benefits for them. He further explained: “We agreed to promote the bill only because Benny Begin said that he discussed the plan with Bedouin representatives and that it was the only outline they would agree to, and that, as far as they’re concerned the implementation of the bill would put an end to all their claims for land. Today it was revealed that he did not discuss the matter with them, and did not receive their support.”
Levin further asserted that: “The present bill should be changed significantly,” saying that “I’m willing to be generous to the Bedouin that would immediately agree to join the process.” However, he insisted that those Bedouin who do not agree “should be forcefully placed in the areas allotted to Bedouin. The agreement to join the generous outline should be limited in time, and it should be determined that the lands would only be leased to the Bedouins, not registered with the land authority as their property.”
This is a sentiment that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also expressed last week, suggesting that he had access to Begin’s revelation before the other Knesset members. In a Facebook post, Lieberman argued that the Bedouin had “a duty to evacuate all the lands they have populated illegally”, and if they refused to do so then they should not be entitled to any benefits.
The Prawer-Begin plan in its current form would forcefully displace up to 70,000 Palestinian Bedouins in the Naqab, where many have lived for generations.
MK Dov Khenin from the far left Hadash party also demanded on Monday to halt the promotion of the Prawer bill, suggesting that a different bill should be formulated that would address the Bedouins’ problems in the Naqab. He pointed out how: “The map that was revealed at the Interior Committee [on Monday] proved that all our fears were justified,” referring to the worries that Bedouin would suffer if the government were to carry out its proposed plan. He continued: “The Prawer plan offers an array of means to fight the Bedouin and actually drive out thousands of them from their homes and villages.” He said “The government concealed this map from the Bedouins,” adding that the government also “concealed this map from the Knesset”.