In whose interest?…write Betzalel Smotrich and Ari Briggs

January 31, 2013 by  
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On Sunday, in a move both grave and alarming, the Cabinet, by a vote of 16 for, 3 against and 1 abstention, approved far-reaching changes to the legislation dealing with the reorganization of Bedouin settlement in the Negev.

Ari Briggs at the White House

Ari Briggs at the White House

It seems most ministers were not given the time or had the wherewithal to study the proposed amendments and were also not prepared to take on an implacable Prime Minister when the next government’s ministerial positions are in the process of being determined.

The first stage of the present incarnation of the attempt to organize Bedouin settlement in the Negev took place in 2007, when the Goldberg Commission was appointed. The commission deliberated for a year before publishing its recommendations, which became known as the “Goldberg Report.” Since that time, an implementation team, headed by the Prime Minister’s Office director for policy planning, Udi Prawer, has been working on the issue.

The team’s conclusions, known as the “Prawer Outline,” were presented to the government for discussion at the end of 2011. The government held a number of discussions in the framework of implementation and, after several delays, the outline was approved, subject to a number of significant reservations.

It is important to mention that the three processes described above were carried out after consultation with the Beduin population and with its cooperation, as well as that of a number of leftist NGO’s that claim to represent the Beduin’s best interests.

 

SOON AFTER the approval of the outline by the government, the Justice Ministry published a voluminous proposed legislation, and the public was invited to submit its reservations within 60 days. At the same time, then-minister Benny Begin began a “listening” process.

In this framework he met with representatives of the Bedouin and leftist groups and heard their positions on the program for the nth time. Begin’s conclusions included a number of significant changes to the government’s outline, and in recent months these changes were solidified in secret, resulting in a revised version of the legislation.

The changes were kept absolutely secret, and all of Regavim’s attempts to get hold of them came to naught. Apparently, it was important to someone to keep these changes shrouded in darkness, far from the public eye, and thus prevent any serious discussion on the subject.

This past Thursday, late in the afternoon, a 100-page-plus proposal – including 20 pages laying out Begin’s conclusions and 68 pages detailing the revised proposed legislation – was circulated among the government ministers through their offices.

THIS IS doubtless one of the most complicated and involved issues that has been on the public agenda in recent years. Diving into the complex wording of the proposed legislation and understanding the meaning of each adjustment requires both skill and a great deal of time, even for one already familiar with the material.

At that late hour of the afternoon, at the end of the working week that also included elections, it is highly likely that most of the ministers would not have received the material or had a chance to review it. It should be noted that, according to government regulations, the government secretariat must publicize the Cabinet meeting’s agenda no later than the Wednesday prior to Sunday’s Cabinet meeting.

Did someone have an interest in the least number of ministers possible being given the chance to become acquainted with the material before the vote? Judge for yourselves.

The Cabinet’s decision to approve the amendments to the legislation is a clear case of underhanded opportunism, and it is difficult to free oneself of the feeling that the individual, who was perceived to be the symbol and compass of government propriety and dedication to democracy in the past few years, trampled every norm of proper administration on the way to what he considered to be correct and good for the State of Israel.

If we add to this the fact that we are speaking of a transition government that no longer enjoys the confidence of the Knesset, we have a decision that is both immoral and illegitimate, and according to our estimation, illegal as well.

It is clear to us that the government succumbed to pressure. The governments response to this pressure is a clear message to the Bedouin and their left wing NGO supporters – the more pressure you apply, directly and by taking this issue international to foreign governments and the media, the more you’ll get.

It is obvious to us that even though this government decision gave the Bedouin an additional gift of 100,000 dunams of the Negev on top of the 150,000 dunams already proposed they have no intention of accepting this latest “offer”. This proposal also does not solve the core of the issues in the Negev, which has to be both right and practical and take into account the interest of the State of Israel and the needs of the Beduin population.

Although the legislation with Begin’s amendments needs to be passed by the new Knesset, following the cabinet approval, the bureaucracy, including teams of surveyors and engineers, will continue their work on implementing this new plan because this is how things happen around here!!

As such, Regavim will go back to the Supreme Court and submit a new petition to reverse the government decision, and we would like to believe that the judges in Jerusalem will do justice and cancel this decision. If the court’s ruling disappoints as well, we can only hope the next government will find the courage to reverse this decision and save the Negev before it is too late.

Ari Briggs is the International Relations director at Regavim. Regavim is an NGO whose mission is to ensure the responsible, legal and environmentally friendly use of Israel’s national lands and the return of the rule of law to all areas and aspects of the land and its preservation. Ari will be in Sydney speaking at various locations from February 21st -27th.

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