A controversial plan to create planned Bedouin residential settlements in the Negev is continuing to advance through the Knesset despite the government’s announcement last week that the bill was frozen.
The Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee on Monday debated the so-called Prawer Plan, formally called the Bill for the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev, in preparation for its second and third readings in the Knesset plenum.
The move came several days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the plan would be shelved.
The bill would formally recognize the scattered, unplanned farms and villages of some 60,000 Bedouin in the northern Negev and compulsorily relocate 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.
Many left-wing MKs also promised to vote against the measure. Indeed, in the bill’s first of three readings in the Knesset in July, it passed by a very narrow margin — just 43 in favor to 40 opposed.
Last week, following the revelation that government planners who drew up the bill did not sufficiently consult with Bedouin inhabitants of the villages and encampments themselves, right-wing MKs also began to turn against the bill, arguing that without Bedouin buy-in, the bill would fail in its primary mission: to rein in unplanned expansion of the Bedouin encampments.
With parliamentarians from the right and left now opposed, MK Yariv Levin, the Knesset’s coalition chairman responsible for shepherding government-sponsored legislation into law, announced that the bill no longer had a majority in the Knesset for passage. On Thursday, Netanyahu and former Cabinet minister Benny Begin, one of the bill’s chief architects, announced the plan would be withdrawn.
But on Monday, in a half-empty Knesset building on a snow-blanketed Jerusalem hilltop, the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee once again took up the ostensibly frozen legislation.
It is not immediately clear why the bill is moving forward, with some sources close to the issue suggesting plans were afoot in the Prime Minister’s Office to make it more palatable to both the Bedouin and the right wing. A government source would only say that the government is likely to issue a statement on the matter soon.
The focus of any revisions may lean more toward allaying right-wing concerns, however, as the government appears set to place Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir (Yisrael Beytenu), considered more hawkish than his predecessor Begin, in charge of the plan. While any decision to appoint Shamir has not yet been publicized, Shamir’s office told Channel 1 TV that talks were underway to do so.
A senior government source would only say on Monday that the government is likely to issue a statement on the matter soon.
The Prime Minister’s Office, where the plan was first developed, and MK Miri Regev, chair of the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee where it has apparently been resuscitated, would not comment on the matter on Monday.