Israel delays Bedouin resettlement plan

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 12, 2013 12:54 PM
Israel delays Bedouin resettlement plan

By Allyn Fisher-Ilan

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has postponed a plan to resettle tens of thousands of Bedouin Arabs in the Negev desert that had ignited violent protests, an adviser to his government said on Thursday.

Legislation underpinning the proposed uprooting of 40,000 Bedouin had also come under fire from Netanyahu's right-wing allies, who had threatened to scupper it in parliament because they said it offered the Bedouin too much compensation.

Former cabinet minister Benjamin Begin, an architect of the plan, and a government adviser, told reporters Netanyahu had accepted his proposals to "halt Knesset debate of the bill", which would mean removing it from parliament's agenda.

Begin said Netanyahu had also agreed to "carry out the development plan for Bedouin settlements in the coming years", suggesting that the plan would be revised rather than shelved.

An official in Netanyahu's office sent reporters copies of Begin's remarks at a news conference held in Tel Aviv, but spokesmen for the prime minister declined any comment.

Netanyahu's government introduced the measure in parliament earlier this year. It calls for moving the Bedouin from "unrecognized" villages into seven townships, saying this would improve their standard of living and develop the Negev desert.

Many Bedouin reject any effort to dislodge them from their homes, saying Israel could authorize existing communities to provide better schools, electricity, water and roads.

The bill had been bogged down in a parliamentary committee, where far-rightists opposed its offer of cash and land ownership to the Bedouin, while left-wing lawmakers charged that it sought to uproot Arabs so as to expand housing for Jews.

Rare demonstrations that spanned Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories over the issue led to clashes last month between Israeli forces and youths, including many Arab citizens of the Jewish state.

"Right- and left-wing activists, Jews and Arabs, have tried to take advantage of Bedouin desperation to inflame the atmosphere to boiling point for their own political gain," Begin said.

"We cannot allow a hostile takeover of the legislation or allow it to be hijacked or distorted," Begin said, describing his proposal to delay implementation as "the lesser evil".

(Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Alistair Lyon)