As Bedouin riots and a coalition crisis over tree planting in the Negev continued for a third day on Thursday, the government was said to be considering a plan to legalize some villages in the south, according to the Kan public broadcaster.
The disorders were precipitated by Jewish National Fund forestation work which the protesters oppose as what they charge is a policy of expulsion from the land. The issue has caused a rift in the coalition, as the Islamist Ra’am party, which backs the Bedouin claims, has refused to participate in Knesset votes until the issue is at least on the way to being resolved.
According to Kan, which cited unnamed sources, an “unprecedented” plan to be advanced by the government would include recognition of 10 to 12 Bedouin villages that are currently illegal.
The plan was being drawn up as negotiations between Ra’am and coalition partners were set to begin Thursday, the report said.
Ra’am reportedly said its members would only resume attending Knesset sessions next week if comprehensive negotiations were started on the recognition of Negev Bedouin villages.
Meanwhile on Thursday, hundreds of Bedouin engaged in violent clashes with police, in which 13 people were arrested as police used tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades to clear a roadway of protesters throwing rocks at passing cars.
They said three people were hospitalized with minor injuries.
Police said Thursday morning that 21 rioters were arrested during the night in Tel Sheva, Segev Shalom and Rahat. On the previous night, 18 people were arrested.
Meanwhile, KKL-JNF chairman Avraham Duvdevani told Kan that his organization was just a government contractor and wasn’t setting policy.
“We have been planting trees in the Negev for 15 years in the same format as right now,” Duvdevani said. “There was nothing different from what we have been doing all these years. We have no idea what’s different now. The instructions to halt plantings have been sporadic, and we resumed full work after a few days.
“We will continue planting in the entire Negev. This is part of the Zionist vision.”
Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai told Radio 103FM that the government did not give in to Bedouin violence.
“The government did not surrender to the Bedouin. The government negotiated through Minister Meir Cohen,” the official responsible for Bedouin affairs, he said.
“Whoever sits in the coalition and the coalition depends on him knows how to use his power…We are a coalition of eight parties that is difficult to run, but we manage to do it with great success. We will not give up on Zionism or the Negev. The country is being forested and we will continue to plant and invest in the development of the south to make it a flourishing region.”
Shai continued, “I see the spread of the Bedouin, I am not naïve, but I went into their localities and saw the poverty – it is a disgrace to the State of Israel that children live in such conditions. I hope Minister Cohen will reach a compromise with them. The intention is to reach a situation where the Bedouin will move to defined areas where they will be able to live.”