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Israeli government halts controversial plan to resettle 30,000 Bedouin

12:00 Dec 12 2013 Negev

Israeli government halts controversial plan to resettle 30,000 Bedouin Israeli government halts controversial plan to resettle 30,000 Bedouin Israeli government halts controversial plan to resettle 30,000 Bedouin
Description
Prawer architect Benny Begin announces cancellation of plan after facing opposition from Bedouin, human rights groups and right-wingers. (Activestills)

Umm al-Hiran. The government has decided to raze the Bedouin village in the Negev to make way for a new Jewish community. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Palestinians and Bedouins from the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev Desert in a mass solidarity demonstration in Rahat against the “Prawer Plan”, June 28, 2013. (Photo: Shiraz Grinbaum/Activestills.org)

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JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israel is scrapping a controversial draft law to relocate thousands of Bedouin residents of the Negev desert, an official said Thursday.

Benny Begin, tasked with implementing the so-called Prawer Plan, said he had recommended to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to "end the debate on the law" in parliament.

"The prime minister accepted this proposal", he said at a Tel Aviv press conference, days after it emerged the governing coalition was divided on the proposed legislation.

The move comes less than two weeks after worldwide protests against the plan, during which Israeli police and soldiers clashed with demonstrators, injuring and arresting dozens across Israel and the West Bank.

But the Prawer plan had also been receiving criticism from right-wing Israeli politicians, who claimed it would provide Bedouins with excessive financial and land compensation.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman posted on his Facebook page that the Israeli government "should re-examine the plan and consider a far-reaching plan that would annul the benefits the Bedouin were to receive."

According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the plan would have forcibly evicted nearly 40,000 Bedouin and destroy their communal and social fabric, condemning them to a future of poverty and unemployment.

Other estimates had put the number of Bedouin residents at risk at 70,000.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report

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By Ofer Aderet and Jonathan Lis for Haaretz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government has decided to drop the current draft of a controversial bill to resettle nearly 30,000 Bedouin living in the Negev into already recognized villages, the former minister overseeing the plan said on Thursday.

Benny Begin, an architect of the Begin-Prawer Plan, told a press conference that Netanyahu had accepted his recommendation to halt progress on the bill. It is not clear whether the billl has been shelved or just temporarily postponed.

He also accused critics of the plan of exploiting the proposal for their own benefit. "Right, left, Arabs and Jews joined hands – while exploiting the plight of many Bedouin – to heat things up for political gain," he said. "We've done our best, but sometimes you need to recognize reality."

During the drafting of the legislation, Begin said, more than 1,000 Bedouin were heard and changes were introduced in the bill accordingly. "I myself met with 600 of them… We didn't just hear them out, we listened to them attentively," he said, adding that some viewed his willingness to engage with the Bedouin community as excessive.

The possibility of the bill being shelved emerged three days ago, after Begin denied claims that community leaders had accepted the proposal – a key defense used by the government in advancing the plan.

Begin said that contrary to reports, he had never approached the Bedouin with the plan and thus did not receive their approval on the matter.

“I wish to again make clear that contrary to what has been claimed in recent weeks, I didn’t tell anyone that the Bedouin agreed to my plan,” Begin told the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee. “I couldn’t say that because I didn’t present the plan to them. I didn’t present the bill that I revised to any segment of the public, including the Bedouin. The revised bill is not being presented again to the public to hear whether the amendments are to its liking or not. As a result, I would not be able to know to what extent they support the law.”

Following Begin's remarks, coalition whip MK Yariv Levin (Likud) said the plan lost its majority support in the government.

The current plan should undergo vast changes, Levin said, and not be presented to the Knesset plenum for the second and third reading in the next few months.

The Prawer-Begin plan outlines a proposal to resolve land-use issues related to the Bedouin. The draft legislation outlines the compensation, in money and in land, to some 20,000 to 30,000 Bedouin upon relocation.

The bill was endorsed by the interim government on May 7 and approved by a slim majority in its first Knesset reading on June 25.
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