Bedouin expect prime minister to announce changes in villages plan  

By Nir Hasson

Haaretz, 10.08.2004



The Bedouin sector expects Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to announce substantial modifications in the plan

for recognition of their villages. The Interior Ministry and Sharon's bureau have recently considered tempering the plan,

and a meeting yesterday discussed the slow progress to date.



The "Sharon Plan," published in January 2003, called for state recognition of seven more Bedouin settlements in the Negev,

bringing the total number of recognized villages to 14; the transfer of residents out of the unrecognized villages; and compensation

 to resolve disputes with the Israel Lands Administration and the Justice Ministry. NIS 1.25 billion was allocated for the plan over

a six-year period, a large portion of which is budgeted for battling illegal construction and retaking land.


Bedouin and civilian organizations involved in the Bedouin struggle attacked the plan for the coercion involved and the lack of consultation

with the Bedouin community. And, in fact, this lack of consultation led to virtually no practical progress in the past year and half.


Last year, the state reached land arrangements covering just 1,500 dunams of the 990,000 dunams of land on which the Bedouin

have ownership claims. The land disputes are delaying the transfer of population to the permanent settlements, as even in those

settlements there are 55 dunams that cannot be utilized due to ownership disputes.


There has been no progress on illegal construction, either. Last year, the Interior Ministry destroyed 137 illegal buildings, but an estimated

2,000 were erected in that period.


Government officials have recently stated on a number of occasions that the existing plan is not viable, and new solutions must be prepared.

They say MK Omri Sharon (Likud) is spearheading a new approach. "He went to the prime minister and said `Dad, your plan isn't working,'"

according to a source involved in the matter.


One of the participants at yesterday's meeting said, "There is no doubt progress is unsatisfactory and implementation is not going at a reasonable pace."


The Sharon Plan can be more flexible in two key areas: the compensation for land and the number of recognized villages. There has already

been some deviation from the Sharon Plan. An international player has mediated between the Bedouin community and the state on the land

issue and the list of seven villages to be recognized has been expanded to nine.


Planning authorities are considering the establishment of a few additional settlements, apparently including a village for Bedouin who live

adjacent to the Ramat Hovav industrial zone. However, the distance between the state position and the Bedouin position is still great, as

the Bedouin demand the state recognize 45 villages.


Industry and Trade Minister Ehud Olmert, responsible for implementing the plan, representatives of the interior and justice ministries, Israel

Lands Administration director Yaacov Efrati, and the head of the National Security Council, Giora Eiland, attended yesterday's meeting.

The participants decided to examine progress to date on the plan and examine new alternatives. They also decided that the Security Council,

which had previously expressed concerns that the plan could radicalize the Bedouin population, would submit an evaluation of the situation by November.


"We always said the plan would fail," said Unrecognized Villages Council chair Hassin al-Rafa'iya yesterday. "We call on Sharon to negotiate

with residents and their leadership. It is possible to reach an agreement quickly; let's solve the problem before it is too late."


"I hope the upper echelons finally feel the futility," said MK Haim Oron (Yahad), a resident of Kibbutz Lahav in the Negev. "But I am concerned

about how they may try to resolve the issue. We don't need small improvements, but an overall change of policy."