A proposed law to relocate thousands of Negev Bedouin and impart legal status to currently illegal Bedouin settlements in the Negev may be shelved, said MK Miri Regev (Likud-Beytenu), who chairs the Knesset Interior Committee. The controversial law, Regev believes, was being promoted by the government under conditions far different than the committee had been led to believe, and unless the government is more forthcoming with facts on the arrangement, she will halt proceedings necessary to pass it into law.
According to the so-called "Prawer-Begin" law, which has been approved on its first reading, Negev Bedouin will be awarded about 180,000 dunams of land (45,000 acres) of state land, where they can set up farming or urban communities. The land will be given to them for free. The giveaway is part of a deal to organize Bedouin settlement in the Negev, where many illegal Bedouin villages have been set up on state land.
Many of the Bedouin are squatting on state land, but instead of evicting them, the state is offering to “compensate” them for much of the value of the land with a cash payment – as well as provide them with a new parcel of land.
Many of the villages stand in the way of important security, housing, transportation, and industrial projects the state would like to proceed with.
While many of the tens of thousands of Bedouin in the Negev have agreed to the plan, many others have not, and Arab MKs have been leading the opposition to any compromise on the issue. That point of view was represented at the Knesset discussion by the Bamakom group, which advocates state recognition of all illegal Arab settlements in the Negev.
Those settlements currently do not receive any official services, such was water, electricity, or sewage. Many of them use poorly-ventilated generators to produce electricity and dispose of their waste in wadis and streams in the Negev, creating a major environmental hazard. In some cases, the illegal settlements break into water infrastructure belonging to Israel's Mekorot water company, stealing and wasting water, a rare resource in the arid Negev.
Last weekend, thousands of Bedouin protested against the plan, rioting and demanding that the government back down from implementing the law. The protests were surprising to members of the Committee, Regev said Monday, because they had been under the impression that the plan had been approved by elders of the Bedouin community – or so the government had claimed. Now, it turns out, the Bedouin were not consulted on the matter at all.
“We are involved in arranging legal settlement for the Bedouin, not hiding the fact of it,” Regev said.
The government has also so far failed to produce all the paperwork and documents surrounding the plan. If this is not done immediately, she said, the Committee will drop discussion of the law, effectively burying it in committee. “Any law that is passed will be fair and take into account the needs of everyone, government and Bedouin included,” she said.
“The Bedouin are not in charge of the country or the area, and the state has a right to ensure proper settlement,” Regev said. “No one is above the law and violence to protest something a group doesn't like, such as the riots that took place over the weekend, are unacceptable.” With that, she said, the state would ensure that the Bedouin were treated fairly.