Government Withdraws Controversial Housing Plan for Bedouin

YERUSHALAYIM -

A controversial government plan to regulate Bedouin housing in the Negev collapsed on Thursday as former minister Bennie Begin, who had helped draw up the plan, announced the decision to withdraw it.

The plan called for the resettling of tens of thousands of Bedouin in an attempt to bring order into the chaotic housing situation in the south, characterized by illegal, ramshackle villages.

However, it was bitterly opposed by the Bedouin and by Palestinian agitators who joined them, denouncing it as an Israeli land grab and staging sometimes-violent demonstrations. At the same time, right wing politicians criticized it for being too generous, saying that the state is giving away land for free that the Bedouin could not prove to be theirs in court.

Earlier this week, the plan suffered an additional, fatal setback when Knesset members who had previously supported it changed their position after learning that Bedouin representatives had not been consulted beforehand and had never agreed to it, as they had been led to believe.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu thanked Begin for his efforts. “He undertook this national objective with confidence and commitment, which are worthy of appreciation. We will continue to act to solve this important issue for all of the residents of the Negev,” his office said in a statement.

Begin said on Thursday that the Bedouin population is the “most mistreated population in Israel,” and that there needs to be a solution to the problem “within a short time, just a few years.”

In a parting shot, Begin laid blame with politicians who sought to exploit the issue to their political advantage.

“Ever since the debate began in the Knesset’s Interior Committee, Right and Left, Arabs and Jews banded together to take advantage of the Bedouin’s troubled situation, and they’re trying to warm the air in order to make political gains,” he said.

“Profiteering off their distress could give these politicians certain victories that might even gain them a seat in the Knesset in the next election, and by doing so the situation in the Negev wouldn’t improve.”