Begin said in a press conference Thursday that the move to stop the plan to resettle Bedouins in the Negev was justified, and the initial political response the plan received was only politicians trying to stir controversy for political gain.
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The Prime Minister’s Office responded: “Benjamin Netanyahu thanks former minister Benny Begin for his many efforts on the resettlement of Bedouin in the Negev. 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.”
Begin said 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.”
Opponents charge the plan would confiscate Bedouin land and affect their nomadic way of life. Israel insists the moves are necessary to provide basic services that many Bedouins lack and would benefit their community while preserving their traditions. The government has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in housing, health, public services and education for the Bedouin.
Skeptics expressed concern that despite the fact that the Prawer Bill was shelved, any new outline that will attempt to regulate Bedouins' settlement in the Negev might be worse.
"The government will also continue to tear down houses in unrecognized villages in the Negev," said Raja Agabriya, an activist against the bill.
Joy among activists was thus mixed with concern, as problems persist in terms of villages' lack of infrastructure.
The former minister said, however, that despite the decision to suspend the proposed bill, the development plan for cities in the Negev will continue using the help of the Prawer Bill’s newly founded Implementation Unit and the Housing Ministry and Construction’s Authority for Bedouin Resettlement in the Negev.
The Prawer outline is a governmental process that will resettle the Bedouin in the Negev. The plan was formed after a slow political process, and it is meant to help solve the land ownership dispute between the State and the Bedouin population in Israel. Due to the government’s intention to pass the bill, there has been a series of riots and protests in the past weeks that both Bedouins and other social activists have started.
Netanyahu initially said after seeing the protests that the rioters will be punished and the bill will continue as planned. “There is no, and there will not be any tolerance for those who break the law. We will continue to advance the Prawer Bill. The attempts of a violent and loud minority to prevent a better future for this large and wide-spanning population have been severe.”
But Begin said the initial blame belonged with other politicians, who attempted to take control of the bill proposal, which Begin himself advanced in the last Knesset. “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.”
Begin also criticized Coalition Chairman Yariv Levin, who, according to Begin, tried to change the plan’s framework with all of his strength. “Just a couple of days ago the coalition chairman announced that there isn’t a majority supporting the plan with its current outline. He also announced that there needed to be drastic changes on behalf of the government,” Begin said.
“We can’t allow a hostile takeover of this bill proposal – we will not let it be hijacked and twisted up.”
Begin also said that if the bill does not become a law, the problems in the south will only become worse. “The problem (riots) that started last month could become worse. The plan is to balance two important factors: On the one hand there is the fair monetary compensation for landowners, and on the other hand there are tough paragraphs on law enforcement for those who will try to sabotage the plan.”
Habayit Hayehudi expressed its satisfaction with the bill being suspended. Zvulun Kalfa said the plan that was presented will not solve the problem. “It’s possible to solve the quandary in a different matter. Begin’s outline only relates to five percent of the residents. He dealt with compensations, but barely touched upon resettling towns.”
Itay Blumenthal, AP contributed to this report
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