Last week, a bill came before the Israeli parliament that proposes the resettlement of up to 40,000 Bedouins from their unrecognized villages into specifically designated townships. Last Sunday, the cabinet authorized work on 10 new Jewish settlements in the area, to attract a new population to the Negev."
Named for Ehud Prawer, the head of the committee tasked with implementing Eliezer Goldber’s recommendations for dealing with the Bedouins, the Prawer Plan advised the immediate transfer of half of the land claimed by the Bedouins to the State as payment for ownership of the remaining territory. This exchange requires the demolition of 35 unrecognized villages. The Bedouin were not represented on the committee.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that the plan would "allow the Bedouin, for the first time, to realize their assets and turn them from dead capital into living capital to receive ownership of the land, which will allow for home construction according to law and for the development of enterprises and employment. This will jump the population forward and provide it with economic independence."
Government spokesman Mark Regev said the aim of the plan was to “narrow the unacceptable gaps that exist in Israeli society and to invest millions of shekels to bring the Bedouin into the mainstream.”
Around 195,000 Bedouin Arabs live in the Negev. Some live in seven overcrowded and impoverished state-planned towns, while others choose to live in 45 unrecognized villages under the threat of demolition.
Arab advocacy groups argue that displacing the Negev Bedouin to towns inhibits their traditional agricultural way of life, and they would never agree to it. "We think the Prawer plan is bad for the Bedouin and Jews because it will upset Arab-Jewish relations," says Thabet Abu Ras of Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights in Israel.
Abu Ras calls the plan discriminatory towards a community unfairly seen as "a demographic and security threat."
"They think they can push Arabs from the border, reduce the population and make room to establish more Jewish communities," he added. "Jewish citizens who live in the Naqab [Negev] are free to live in cities, a kibbutz, even their own farm. Why is this not the right of all citizens?"
Large protests against the plan have already occurred, and more are planned.