At a Bedouin encampment
At a Bedouin encampment Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Regavim organization filed an urgent appeal to the Supreme Court on Friday over a government decision regarding Negev land that is expected to be made official on Sunday.

According to Regavim, outgoing minister Benny Begin is heading a last-minute plan to give away huge swaths of Negev land to Bedouin tribes in the area.

The government announced a large scale plan in 2011 to deal with illegal Bedouin communities in the Negev. The plan includes relocating tens of thousands of Bedouin and giving them land for new communities and money to build. Other communities will be retroactively approved.

Begin now plans to increase the alternate land given to the Bedouin from 50% of the land they have appropriated to 63%, adding more than 30,000 dunams (30 square kilometers) to the land offer, Regavim explained. The land will be registered under Bedouin clan members’ names.

He also plans to add several illegal communities to the list of those to be retroactively approved. If the communities in question stay in place, they will join other Bedouin villages in creating a territorial chain cutting off Be’er Sheva and thwarting long-term plans for the city, Regavim argued.

Begin's proposals, written up in a 70-page document, were given to other ministers for perusal only on Thursday afternoon, causing concern that ministers may not have time to review the plan and its implications before voting Sunday morning.

Regavim’s attorneys argued that in any case, the government no longer has the right to make such a significant decision. Now that elections are over, the government is a transition government, and should not be allowed to make a decision that will bind the hands of the next coalition, they told the court.

In addition, they said, there is reason for concern that ministers will avoid voting their conscience due to fears that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will strip them of their ministries in the next government if they oppose him.

Regavim called on the court to order the government to leave the decision regarding the Negev land deal to the next government. “If Minister Begin is worried that in the next government there will not be a majority [in favor of the changes], then let him respect that democratic decision,” the group said,  “and not take advantage of the fact that the politicians and the public are now focused on the creation of the coalition to sneakily impose his will on the next government.”