Government backs landmark Bedouin settlement deal

Cabinet approves compromise to give official recognition to most illegal towns in the Negev, drawing criticism from left and right

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

A Bedouin settlement in the Negev (illustrative photo credit: Alana Perino/Flash90)
A Bedouin settlement in the Negev (illustrative photo credit: Alana Perino/Flash90)

In a compromise, the government said on Sunday it would recognize many of the land claims by the Bedouins in the south of Israel and compensate them for areas they would have to leave, drawing criticism from both sides.

The plan, according to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is meant to end the 65-year-long reality during which the state lost control of land settled by semi-nomadic Bedouin tribes. It would also “put an end to the spread of illegal building by Negev Bedouin and lead to better integration of the Bedouin into Israeli society,” he said.

Drawn up by outgoing Likud minister Benny Begin and approved by the cabinet on Sunday, the blueprint calls for the country to officially recognize and register the vast majority of the Bedouin settlements throughout the south of Israel and compensate those the state plans to move off state-owned land.

Implementing the decision would end the illegal building throughout the Negev and return lands to the hands of the state, Netanyahu said, noting it was time to solve the problem after decades of neglect.

Pini Badash, head of the Omer regional council in the northern Negev, called the plan horrific, telling Israel Radio that the government had rewarded people who violated the law.

“There were almost 700 court cases on the topic, and the Bedouins lost all of them,” he said.

Previous agreements had stated that a much smaller percentage of the settlements would be recognized and no compensation was meant to be given for the remainder of the land, Badash said. “Now people know you can pressurize the government and win, even if you broke the law,” the former MK stated.

Bedouin leaders also expressed misgivings over the state plan. Outgoing Bedouin MK Taleb el-Sana said it was unthinkable that, in a plan meant to solve a problem, thousands of people would be evacuated from their land and their homes razed.

Ibrahim al-Vakili, a leader among the unrecognized Bedouin settlements, said the proposal should be fixed before it is passed. “The residents need to be part of this process,” Vakili told Ynet News, saying they “don’t agree to the [proposed] outline.”

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