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After Ra’am demand, government moves Bedouin agency to Welfare Ministry

Decision to move up transfer follows Islamist party threat to not cooperate with coalition until further notice; Islamist MK says wide-ranging agreements reached

A view of houses in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Sawaneen in Israel's southern Negev Desert, June 8, 2021. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)
A view of houses in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Sawaneen in Israel's southern Negev Desert, June 8, 2021. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

Government ministers voted Sunday on a motion to move the Authority for Development and Settlement of the Bedouin in the Negev from the Economy Ministry to the Welfare Ministry, in a move designed to placate the Ra’am party.

The move had been planned to take place next week, but was moved up over Ra’am’s threats.

The Islamist party said Sunday that it was halting its parliamentary cooperation with the coalition — denying it a majority, at least temporarily, at a critical time in which the government must muster a Knesset majority to pass the state budget.

However, the coalition party did not publicly specify the reasoning for the move.

News outlets quoted sources saying Ra’am was voicing general frustration about the government’s treatment of the party, arguing that it had made the most concessions and reaped the smallest gains, particularly regarding its demands on construction permits for its Bedouin constituents in the Negev region.

“We’re promoting the government more than it promotes us,” a source was quoted as saying by the Walla news site. “We are paying a price for all that we’re doing to keep the coalition intact, but are not receiving anything in return.”

Later Sunday, ministers voted by phone on the bill to move the Bedouin agency from the Economy Ministry to the Welfare Ministry, after the Islamist party threatened to absolve itself of parliamentary cooperation if the move was not approved by the end of the day, Channel 13 reported.

A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said that the move is an implementation of the coalition agreements. It was not immediately clear if Ra’am was withdrawing its protest against the government as a result of the vote.

However, Ra’am lawmaker Waleed Taha said wide-ranging agreements had been agreed Sunday between the party and the rest of the coalition.

“Following a day of intense contacts, we reached agreements on the immediate implementation of decisions from Ra’am’s coalition agreement, in addition to other decisions related to Arabs society” Taha tweeted.

“In the next few days we will witness to major decisions and issues connected to the Arab communities, he said without elaborating.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, left, and Ra’am leader MK Mansour Abbas, seated, at the swearing in of the new Israeli government, in the Knesset on June 13, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

The Islamist party is also said to be angry at the government for aggressively pushing the extension of a law barring Palestinians with Israeli spouses from getting citizenship — a law that some of its members supported recently but which fell due to the objection of the opposition and a rebel member of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party.

Ra’am MK Mazen Ghanaim also said that the party would bolt the coalition if Israel were to strike in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

“Gaza, Lebanon, and the Muslim and Christian holy places [in Jerusalem] are red lines,” Ghanaim told the Kan public broadcaster’s Arabic-language radio, Makan.

“There is no love affair between Mansour Abbas and the new government,” Ghanaim said, saying the fate of the government is yet to be seen, but he views Prime Minister Bennett as just as bad as his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Bedouin Authority was established in 2007, to assist with the development and settlement of the Bedouin in the Negev, including the establishment of residential neighborhoods on state lands for the population.

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