Government shelves Prawer Plan on Bedouin settlement

Bill’s architect Benny Begin blames proposal’s failure on interest groups who tried to change it, calls for immediate solution for ‘most deprived group in Israel’

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Benny Begin speaking to the media about the decision to shelve the Prawer Plan (screen capture: Walla)
Benny Begin speaking to the media about the decision to shelve the Prawer Plan (screen capture: Walla)

The controversial Prawer Plan to solve the issue of unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev will be scrapped, one of the bill’s chief architects announced Thursday.

Former minister Benny Begin, who worked on the bill with Ehud Prawer, head of policy planning in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, told reporters at a press conference that “the prime minister accepted my advice to delay bringing the Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev to a Knesset vote.”

The government will work to formulate a new version of the plan instead.

The Prawer Plan called for Israel to officially recognize and register the vast majority of Bedouin settlements throughout the south, and compensate the residents of 35 unrecognized villages — some 30,000 to 40,000 people — who were to be moved off state-owned land into towns built for them.

“Several days ago, the chairman of the Knesset coalition announced that there is not a majority supporting the bill in its present form,” Begin said, and indicated that there was a movement afoot to change the bill.

Begin told the assembled reporters that the efforts to “introduce far-reaching changes in the government’s formulation” led him to call for its shelving.

“Since the bill reached the Knesset,” he said, “all sorts of interest groups have gotten involved, trying to take advantage of the plight of the Negev Bedouin in order to achieve political gain.”

“We must not allow a hostile takeover of the bill. We must not allow its kidnapping and its distortion,” he said. 

Despite the setback, Begin urged for a solution to the plight of the Bedouin in the Negev, calling them “the most deprived group in Israel,” and said Israel must solve its problems immediately.

Benny Begin with Benjamin Netanyahu, in the Knesset (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Benny Begin with Benjamin Netanyahu, in the Knesset (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Protests against the bill have occasionally turned violent. Fifteen police officers were injured and 40 people were arrested during a violent demonstration that drew over 1,500 people at Hura junction in the Negev two weeks ago.

The bill, also known as the Prawer-Begin Plan, was drawn up by Begin and approved by the cabinet in September 2011.

The Israeli government said the plan would give the Bedouin the services and economic opportunities they currently lack. But where the government sees investment, many Bedouin and human rights activists said they see a land grab tinged with anti-Arab racism.

In January, Netanyahu said the plan was aimed at ending the 65-year-long situation in which the state had given up 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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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