Having narrowly passed the first of three parliamentary “readings” (debates & votes), the Prawer-Begin Bill had been wending its gradual way through the Knesset approval process. As a law, it would forcibly relocate 30-40,000 Negev Bedouin (all citizens of Israel) from about 25 unrecognized villages into seven Bedouin towns and possibly other locations in the Negev. About two weeks ago, thousands of Bedouin and their supporters (including Palestinians in the territories and Jewish-Israeli activists) demonstrated in a “Day of Rage” against the pending legislation.
PPI has been involved in this issue, and some of us have spent the last week formulating additional measures to oppose Prawer-Begin. The other day, we suddenly learned from an article in Haaretz that Israel’s governing coalition is likely to withdraw the bill, ostensibly because Benny Begin (son of Menachem Begin and a former Likud MK and cabinet minister) has revealed that he did not consult with Bedouin community leaders on the final format of the bill, as people had previously believed.
This episode in Israel’s dealings with its Bedouin citizens in the Negev has been a public relations disaster, but the scrapping of this bill does not necessarily mean a more positive turn in Jewish-Bedouin and Jewish-Arab relations within the country. The following statements, quoted in Haaretz, are ominous in tone:
This is what Yariv Levin, chair of the governing coalition in the Knesset, had to say:
The present bill should be changed significantly. I’m willing to be generous to the Bedouin that would immediately agree to join the process. Whoever won’t 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.
And Avigdor Lieberman, having recently returned to the government as foreign minister and head of the Israel Our Home (Yisrael Beitenu) party, stated the following:
We were essentially opposed to the ‘Prawer plan’, but eventually agreed to support it, after former minister Benny Begin said that the plan received the support of all Bedouin tribe leaders and would therefore put an end to this business once and for all. In reality, the opposite happened, as we feared, and the Bedouin are interested in receiving not only the ‘carrot’ – compensation and other lands – but are also active, in all means, including violence, against the ‘stick’ – their duty to evacuate all the lands they have populated illegally. Therefore, one should re-examine the plan and consider a far reaching plan that would annul the benefits the Bedouin were to receive. If there isn’t complete agreement – there should be no benefits.
The “benefits” and “generosity” mentioned above has to do with the compensation (reportedly very limited) in money and in property offered in return for Bedouin agreement to be relocated. It should be clear, however, that what is mainly problematic is that the Bedouin are (reminiscent of Marlon Brando in “The Godfather”) being made an offer they can’t refuse – they don’t have the right to refuse to give up their homes. This was true of Prawer-Begin and seems likely to be true in future legislation, as long as the Likud and Yisrael Beitenu remain in power.