The Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry is expected to take on the responsibility for arranging Bedouin settlement and development in the country’s south, and will be in charge of creating and implementing government development plans for the Bedouin communities, a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office said Friday.
Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Yair Shamir and the director general of his ministry Rami Cohen will be placed in charge of the issue for the government.
Until now, government policy toward the Bedouin was developed in the Prime Minister’s Office Planning Directorate, and was overseen by former cabinet minister Benny Begin. Shamir, from the Yisrael Beitenu party, is considered more hawkish on the issue than Begin, and is expected to offer unrecognized and unplanned Bedouin communities in the Negev smaller compensation packages from that proposed in the Begin-Prawer Plan, the government’s previous attempt at arranging planned Bedouin settlement.
The transfer of responsibilities is set to be authorized on Sunday.
The Begin-Prawer Plan called for formal recognition of the scattered, unplanned farms and villages of some 60,000 Bedouin in the northern Negev and the compulsory relocation of some 30,000 more from outside those areas into the newly recognized villages. While government planners say the measure is necessary to enable the provision of basic public services long denied the Negev’s Bedouin, many Bedouin leaders, left-leaning NGOs and supporters overseas have disagreed vehemently, organizing protests and insisting the plan amounted to ethnic-based land confiscation.
In late November, protests against the plan turned violent when demonstrators clashed with police at the Hura Junction in the Negev. Forty people were arrested and 15 police officers were injured in the incident.
The plan was frozen last month by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after it emerged that government planners had not consulted with Bedouin leaders or residents of the encampments in its development.
However, the plan, in the form of legislation formally called the Bill for the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev, is still being prepared in the Knesset Interior Committee pending a final government decision on its policy vis-a-vis Bedouin settlement.