There has been a significant shift regarding the plan for a massive giveaway of state land to Bedouin residents of the Negev.
At stake is land totaling hundreds of thousands of acres all over the Negev, claimed by Bedouin squatters. In the 1970s, the Bedouin were allowed to register ownership claims over these parcels with the Justice Ministry, but the state never recognized these claims, because they were not backed by legal proof of ownership. Moreover, every time the Bedouin tried to take the state to court to secure their legal ownership over the land, they lost and their lands were registered as property of the state.
In January, Minister without portfolio Benny Begin, serving in a caretaker government, proposed a land reform for the Bedouin population that was going to transform the Negev. Ignoring previous court decisions, the Begin plan was going to sanction the Bedouin squatter tenants, all of them illegal, as the legal owners of much of the Negev.
Begin and the Likud-Beitenu were so committed to this move, that they forced Jewish Home to approve, in the coalition agreement, item 51 which reads: Both sides will promote the “Law regulating Bedouin settlement, 5772-2012,” should a Jewish Home minister be a member of a ministerial committee to implement said law.
According to Maariv, on Wednesday evening there was a meeting on the Negev lands between Ministers Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid) and Uri Ariel (Jewish Home), both appointed by their parties to engage on the issue. The Jewish Home MKs Ayelet Shaked, Zevulun Kalfa and Orit Struck were also pushing a halt to the Begin plan, as were Minister Yair Shamir and MK David Rotem both from Israel Beiteinu, along with coalition chairman Mk Yariv Levin of the Likud.
In the end, according to Maariv this morning, Jewish Home and Yesh Atid, together with most of the coalition partners, reached an agreement to introduce significant changes to the Begin plan, after it had already been approved by the transitional government after the election.
The change, essentially, eliminates the Begin plan in favor of the original 2011 plan, which was approved a much less generous land giveaway to the Negev Bedouin.
According to a source in Jewish Home, the reason the government decided in January to prefer the Begin plan over the 2011 plan was that the Bedouin didn’t like the 2011 plan. Well, you can’t blame them for that, but being unhappy still does not entitle them to a land that isn’t legally theirs.
The plan will be executed over a period of five years, and the Negev Bedouin will have nine months to decide whether they accept it or prefer to sue the government over the plan. Mind you, based on past experience, suing could mean the Bedouin would be left with next to nothing, instead of what is still a legal sanctioning of their ownership of areas where they actually reside.