JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel on Thursday suspended a controversial bill aimed at resettling nomadic Bedouin Arabs into government-recognized villages after a series of objections rendered the plan politically untenable.
The man behind the plan, former Cabinet minister Benny Begin, called the Bedouin in Israel’s southern Negev desert the country’s most discriminated minority and bemoaned that political forces had derailed a plan aimed at helping the community.
“Right and left, Arabs and Jews joined forces — while exploiting the plight of many Bedouin — to heat things up for political gain,” he said in a hastily arranged press conference. Begin said that given the current reality he was forced to recommend that the proposed bill be shelved, a suggestion immediately approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Opponents charge the plan would confiscate Bedouin land and affect their nomadic way of life.
The government insisted the moves were necessary to provide basic services that many Bedouins lack and would benefit their community while preserving their traditions. The government body dealing with the plan said it calls for the vast majority of Bedouin to live where they are. It said it is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in housing, health, public services and education for the Bedouin.
The proposed law had sought to resolve decades-old land claims by the Bedouin community to pave the way for a large-scale development plan in the southern desert area, one of the few remaining open spaces in this densely populated country.
Bedouins are a small group within the Arab minority. Traditionally, they have identified more closely with Israel than their Arab brethren, but their complaints against the resettlement program echo broader sentiments among other Arab Israelis. Some opponents have held violent demonstrations in recent weeks.