Egypt’s future/ Israel’s Bedouin policies
Nov 7, 2013
Update from AIJAC
November 8, 2013
Number 11/13 #02
This Update deals with the situation in Egypt – where the military government of General Abd el Fattah el-Sisi seems to be consolidating power as it continues its relentless crackdown on the deposed Muslim Brotherhood and has just placed former President Mohammed Morsi on trial. On a separate matter, it also includes some important information about the controversial policies in Israel to resolve long standing land and housing issues affecting Bedouin communities in the southern part of the country.
First up is an effort by noted Israeli strategic analyst Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah to give an overview of the current efforts and future plans of Egyptian strongman General el-Sisi. Neriah sees many signs that el-Sisi is deliberately painting himself as the national savior very much in the mold of late President and dictator Gamel abdul Nasser, and is probably settling in for a long period of rule – and he may run for President in the upcoming election. Neriah also notes that part of the ethos of Egypt at the moment – fulled in part by el-Sisi – is a deep hostility to the US which is providing an opening for a possible renewal of Nasser’s old alliance with Russia. For this complete analysis, CLICK HERE. Another analysis of the unknowns about Sisi’s political plans comes from American academic Raymond Stock.
Next up is Washington Institute Egypt specialist Eric Trager looking at the plight of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Egyptian military has worked so ruthlessly to decapitate and disrupt. While Trager says the military efforts look pretty effective – and it is 100% certain Morsi will be found guilty – he also says it too early to write off the Brotherhood, which has recovered from similar campaign of repression before. He sees a number of paths to such a recovery – from abroad; by rebuilding local cells quietly; by operating as ostensibly “independent” political candidates – but all depend on the leadership accepting that their overthrow in July is for the time being irreversible. For the rest of Trager’s analysis of the Islamist movement’s situation, CLICK HERE. More on al-Sisi’s strategy for destroying the Brotherhood from Jonathan Spyer.
Finally, this Update features a valuable background paper from the British organisation BICOM outlining the realities behind Israel’s controversial plans to normalise land tenure and provide social services to Bedouin communities in the southern Negev region. The paper outlines the origin and extent of the problem regarding this segment of Israeli society, the series of inquiries and commissions which led to the current policy and what it is derived to achieve. It also provides useful background on the claims and counterclaims on the extent of the most controversial elements of the policy, the requirement that Bedouin in certain smaller isolated settlements move to larger villages where services can be provided and the attempt to resolve Bedouin land claims in exchange for compensation. For this essential primer on an issue already coming up in the news, CLICK HERE. A longer report on the Bedouin issue – and some of the groups making political claims about it – comes from NGO Monitor.
Readers may also be interested in:
- News reports say Swiss scientists have found some sign in tissue samples that Yasser Arafat may have been poisoned with polonium – as had previously been claimed based on tests on personal effects. A closer look at the actual new Swiss findings – which provide reason for some caution before jumping to conclusions – is here.
- Former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman has been acquitted of all charges against him and is now apparently free to resume a senior Cabinet role. Some analysis of Leiberman’s past career and future options is here.
- Isi Leibler writes about what the latest Pew survey reveals about the state of the Jewish Diaspora.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- Allon Lee discusses Hamas’ efforts to deal with isolation abroad and increasing domestic opposition within Gaza.
- Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz responds to the strange claim that academic freedom gives one the right to boycott Israeli academics.
- Sharyn Mittelman on the crimes of the latest 26 Palestinian prisoners released in exchange for peace talks.
Sisi Fever: Will the General be the Next President of Egypt?
Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah
- Since the ousting of President Morsi the issue of who will be the next elected president of Egypt has been at the centre of attention in Egypt and abroad General Abd el Fattah el-Sisi, the man who led the overthrow of President Morsi on July 3, 2013, holds the combined titles of Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, first Deputy of the Prime Minister, and Minister of Defense and Military Production. Unlike his predecessors, Sisi is waging a merciless campaign against jihadi fighters in Sinai Peninsula in order to restore Egypt’s sovereignty there while drastically reducing Hamas’ power in Gaza.
- Sisi may be “called to the flag” as a savior in order to salvage Egypt from its enemy, the Muslim Brotherhood. Talk shows and newspaper columns have been advocating the idea of the general running for president in order to fight the terrorist threat they say the country is facing. Most of the other potential candidates have declared that if Sisi would run for president, they would retract their candidacies.
- There is a concentrated effort to picture Sisi as the political heir of the iconic President Gamal Abd el Nasser. Sisi himself participated in the 43rd memorial ceremony of Nasser’s death. There were posters with his picture adjacent to Nasser’s. Egyptians see Nasser as the Egyptian leader who fought the Muslim Brotherhood domestically and led Egypt to the leadership of the Arab World and the non-aligned community.
- In fact, Sisi was presenting his legitimacy as the rightful leader of Egypt not only to his Egyptian compatriots but also toward the U.S. administration, which is questioning his legitimacy and presenting him as the leader of a coup and a usurper of power. This creates an opening for a possible Russian comeback in Egypt and through it to a reinforced Russian position in the region.
- By deciding to cut its financial aid to Egypt and postpone the delivery of weapon systems already ordered, the U.S. has overturned the longstanding correlation
between financial assistance and Egypt’s honoring of the peace treaty with Israel. The $14 billion that Saudi Arabia and the UAE transferred to Egypt immediately after Sisi’s takeover, and the $40 billion promised in economic aid, are a reminder that Egypt may not be in need of such conditional financial assistance.
- Observers of the Egyptian scene are repeatedly stressing the change in the mood of the Egyptians towards the United States, from friendship and admiration to open hostility. In fact, the crisis with the Obama Administration and Sisi’s reaction to it has helped build up his leadership credentials as a daring Egyptian nationalist who does not retreat before a superpower – particularly one that so openly supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Since the ousting of President Morsi on July 3, 2013, the issue of who will be the next elected President of Egypt has been at the center of attention in Egypt and abroad. Morsi’s presidency has proven the extent to which an Egyptian president can influence the course of the country and shape its domestic and foreign policy. Because of this, one can easily understand the amount of energy devoted by analysts of the Egyptian scene in order to try and decipher the intentions of General Abd el Fattah el-Sisi, the actual strongman of Egypt.
Sisi holds the combined titles of Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, first Deputy of the Prime Minister, and Minister of Defense and Military Production. He is the man who led the overthrow of President Morsi. Since August 14, he has conducted a ferocious crackdown (only parallel to the crackdown performed by Gamal Abd el Nasser in 1954 against the Brotherhood) aimed at eliminating the political power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. And unlike his predecessors, Sisi is waging a merciless campaign against jihadi fighters in the Sinai Peninsula in order to restore Egypt’s sovereignty in the desert while drastically reducing Hamas’ power in the Gaza Strip.
Sisi has been very murky about his future plans, denying through the army spokesman any intention of running for the presidency in early 2014. However, events on the ground seem to show that the general is preparing himself for the presidency because this is the only viable choice for him and the military establishment. In theory, Sisi could decide to stay in his position under a newly elected president and enjoy his powers as he is doing today, but he could also suffer the fate of his predecessor, Field Marshal Tantawi, who had his career terminated with the stroke of a pen. Sisi does not want to alienate his opponents by eying the presidency too early and creating a situation in which he would have to justify himself.
Savior of Egypt
The course of events in Egypt seems to lead to a situation in which Sisi will be “called to the flag” as a savior in order to salvage Egypt from its enemy, the Muslim Brotherhood, and lead the country not only as an Egyptian nationalist but as an Arab hero. In fact, if Egypt’s mainstream media and political power circles could have voted by now, then Sisi would be president with almost no challengers.
No observer of the Egyptian scene can ignore the publicity campaign, partially orchestrated by the authorities, singing Sisi’s praises, which has been happening for several weeks. Between TV commercials used to advertise food products, groups on social networking sites and posters in the street, Egypt seems to have “Sisi fever.” Talk shows and newspaper columns have been advocating the idea of the general running for president in order to fight the terrorist threat they say the country is facing. Local media are also buzzing about the widespread support for a Sisi presidency. In fact, Sisi has no real competitor. Most of the other potential candidates – Amr Moussa, Ahmad Shafik, Hamdeen Sabahi, Abd el Muneim Aboul Foutouh – have declared that if Sisi would run for president, they would retract their candidacies.
Recently a number of campaigns have been launched calling on the general to run for president. The campaigns are called “Complete Your Favor,” “A Nation’s Demand,” and “Al- Sisi for President.” Their aim is to circulate petitions with the hope that 30 million signatures will convince Sisi to run, just as the millions of signatures convinced him to act against Morsi.
No doubt the “Sisi fever” is being fueled partly by Sisi himself or by people around him who support him. These supporters stress his charisma, his popularity, and his authoritative demeanor. They also emphasize that Sisi is someone who makes tough, harsh, and unpopular decisions and yet at the same time presents himself as “guardian of the people’s will” and delivers colloquial and sentimental speeches to the nation.
More interesting is the concentrated effort to picture Sisi as the political heir of the iconic President Gamal Abd el Nasser. Sisi himself has revived the Nasserist cult by participating in the 43rd memorial ceremony of Nasser’s death. Sisi has also allowed posters to spread with his picture adjacent to the venerated president, invited Nasser’s son and daughter to official ceremonies (such as the one held to commemorate the “October War”), and used Nasser’s “magic words” in his speeches. When these phrases were pronounced by Sisi, Egyptians were able to see him as the successor to Nasser, the Egyptian leader who fought the Muslim Brotherhood domestically and led Egypt to the leadership of the Arab World and the non- aligned community.
In a way, Sisi’s revival of Nasser’s memory was a way for him to satisfy deeply buried longings for an era of Egyptian prominence in Arab and world politics. Nasser’s family has mobilized in order to give Sisi the legitimacy to present himself as the political successor of Nasser. Nasser’s daughter Huda wrote an open letter to Sisi urging him to “step forward and take responsibility for the destiny that is yours.” The list of personalities invited to the podium for the ceremony marking Egypt’s “victory” in the “October War” included Abd el Hakim Abd el Nasser (son of President Nasser), Jihan Sadat (the wife of assassinated President Anwar Sadat), Field Marshal Tantawi, and other dignitaries from the Arab world. The only person missing was former Chief of Staff Samy Anan, but this was likely due to the fact that Anan had presented himself as a candidate for the presidency in 2014. For the Egyptians, Sisi appeared as a unifier, a leader that conceded to his predecessors their rightful place in Egypt’s history. In fact, Sisi was presenting his legitimacy as the rightful leader of Egypt not only to his Egyptian compatriots but also toward the U.S. administration, which is questioning his legitimacy and presenting him as the leader of a coup and a usurper of power.
The Nasserist revival presents a challenge. Nasser’s relations with the United States were notoriously bad, as was his attitude toward Israel. Sisi has not challenged the peace treaty with Israel and most probably will not do so as long as his main concern remains the consolidation of his regime and the quelling of the Muslim Brotherhood’s resistance. Sisi, as head of Military Intelligence, knows the intricacies of Egyptian-Israeli security relations and is well aware that the issue of insecurity in Sinai raised by Israel is primarily directed against the stability of the Egyptian regime. As long as Israel agrees to the Egyptian requests to beef up its forces in Sinai in order to fight the jihadists – and is therefore willing to overlook the limitations on Egyptian troop levels imposed by the peace treaty – Sisi has no reason to change the rules of the game with Israel.
Anger at U.S. Policy
A new, unexpected element has come into the equation between Egypt and Israel. For years, Egyptians were used to hearing from the U.S. that continuation of American financial assistance to Egypt requires honoring the peace treaty with Israel. However, following Morsi’s ousting, the United States decided to cut its financial aid to Egypt and postpone the delivery of weapon systems already ordered by Egypt. By doing so, the United States has overturned the longstanding correlation between financial assistance and Egypt’s honoring of the peace treaty, leaving the Egyptians to wonder now what the U.S. reaction would be if Egypt were to question its peace treaty with Israel, given that American financial leverage could disappear.
The $14 billion that Saudi Arabia and the UAE transferred to Egypt immediately after Sisi’s takeover, and the $40 billion promised in economic aid, are a reminder to the United States and others that Egypt may not be in need of such conditional financial assistance. Saudi Arabia and the UAE were the first to understand the change in Egypt. They see Sisi as a potential ally and protector against the growing threat of Iran in the Gulf area at a time when U.S. interest in the area is fading away and being replaced by a drive to restore relations with Iran. In the face of Egypt’s serious socio-economic problems compounded by unrest, financial aid from Saudi Arabia and the UAE could become a decisive factor for Egypt in consolidating the situation in the country under army leadership.
Moscow has also been paying attention to the unexpected Saudi-Egyptian alliance, as shown, for example, by the recent visit of the director general of the Saudi Intelligence Agency, Prince Bandar, to Moscow and his exhaustive four-hour conversation with Russian President Putin. It is interesting that Prince Bandar did not respond to a similar invitation from Washington, which speaks indirectly of Riyadh’s dissatisfaction with U.S. policy in the Middle East.
President Obama prefers not to publicly support the Egyptian military regime. After the events of August 14, he attempted to call General Sisi. However, according to some sources, Sisi did not take Obama’s call. Instead, the Egyptians suggested that the White House call the interim president, Adly Mansour, which the Americans, in turn, declined to do.
Observers who follow the Egyptian scene are repeatedly stressing the change in the mood of the Egyptians towards the United States, from friendship and admiration to open hostility. Israel also has been suffering from this change in the mood towards the United States. The U.S. attitude (described by Sisi himself as turning its back on the Egyptians) is fueling his leadership exactly as occurred decades ago, when Nasser used CIA money to build a radio tower in Cairo that became the beacon of anti-Americanism in the region. In fact, the crisis with the Obama Administration and Sisi’s reaction to it has helped build up his leadership credentials as a daring Egyptian nationalist who does not retreat before a superpower – particularly one that so openly supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah, a special analyst for the Middle East at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, was formerly Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Deputy Head for Assessment of Israeli Military Intelligence.
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How Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Can Bounce Back
The Atlantic, November 5, 2013
Assuming the group is patient and willing to accept that the events of this summer are irreversible, it has several options for eventually regaining national influence.
There is zero chance he gets acquitted. Forget the protests. Forget the procedural twists and turns. That’s all you need to know about deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s trial, which began on Monday in a heavily fortified police academy just outside of Cairo. Its outcome is a foregone conclusion — the product of a process whose sole goal is polishing the uprising-cum-coup that ousted Morsi this summer with a legalistic sheen.
That’s not to say that Morsi would be found innocent in a fairer court. As top Muslim Brothers confirmed to me at the time, the former Egyptian leader participated in planning the Brotherhood’s “response” to last winter’s protests against his power-grabbing constitutional declaration during a December 4 meeting at his house. The following day, Brotherhood cadres attacked demonstrators outside the presidential palace, catalyzing clashes in which 10 people were killed and 748 were injured. Still, there is a reason why Morsi is not being tried alongside Egypt’s former interior minister, whose officers reportedly assisted the Brotherhood in torturing protesters during that fateful standoff: because this trial is part of the interim government’s political strategy to decapitate and thereby destroy the Brotherhood, which means more trials of the organization’s top leaders will soon follow.
Ultimately, Egypt’s military-backed government, which possesses far greater hard power and much stronger public support than the Brotherhood, is likely to win its current battle with the group. Moreover, the Brotherhood’s constant — and often chaotic — demonstrations demanding Morsi’s reinstatement have only enhanced the government’s advantages, since the protests are violently dispersed while many Egyptians cheer approvingly. With all of its top leaders either arrested or on the run, its activities banned, and its assets seized by an Egyptian court, the Brotherhood is at the brink of destruction: Its notoriously hierarchical vanguard has been disrupted and the broader environment of fear further prevents its rank-and-file from organizing effectively.
Still, it is too soon to write off the Brotherhood, which has re-emerged twice now from supposed oblivion. Following the February 1949 assassination of Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna, the group returned to political prominence through its support of the Free Officers’ ouster of King Farouk in 1952. Then, decades after President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s severe crackdown in 1954 that sent thousands of Muslim Brothers to prison, the Brotherhood resurfaced in the 1970s under the relative freedom that President Anwar Sadat afforded it, quietly rebuilding the nationwide command structure that enabled it to quickly win power once Hosni Mubarak fell in 2011.
So how might the Brotherhood bounce back? Here are three possibilities.
First, the Brotherhood could establish its operational headquarters abroad and, during a less repressive period back home, rebuild its links with the group’s rank-and-file within Egypt through both digital and interpersonal networks. This would mean empowering top Brotherhood leaders who have managed to escape the country — for example, Secretary-General Mahmoud Hussein, who has been spotted in Turkey and Qatar, and Deputy Supreme Guide Gomaa Amin, who is in London — to run and maintain the organization. To some extent, the Brotherhood is already laying the groundwork for this strategy, since it has shifted its media center to London and used this foreign outpost to encourage its cadres back in Cairo. Moreover, there are precedents for this strategy among Islamist groups: Ennahda adopted it during the 1990s and 2000s, when its leadership was based in London, and it quickly emerged as Tunisia’s leading party following the 2011 revolution. The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood similarly moved what remained of its leadership abroad following Hafez al-Assad’s 1982 crackdown on the group, and it funded its members’ housing and education in exile to preserve the organization. It is a strategy, however, that requires substantial patience. It took Ennahda nearly two decades to return to Tunisia, while the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood still has a limited presence within Syria after more than three decades in exile.
Second, lower-level Brotherhood leaders could rebuild the group’s pyramidal command chain from the bottom up. After Morsi and his top-level Brotherhood colleagues are given virtual life sentences, leaders within the Brotherhood’s widely dispersed administrative districts — known as “areas” — could coordinate to elect new provincial leaders and, thereafter, new national leaders. For this to be possible, however, lower-level Brotherhood leaders will have to focus in the short run on preserving the Brotherhood’s local administrative units — a mission that the organization’s current tactic of agitating for Morsi’s impossible return complicates significantly, since the resulting crackdowns prevent the Brotherhood from organizing and working at the local level. Much like the first strategy, this would also require patience, since it may take years before local Brotherhood units enjoy sufficient freedom for reconstituting leadership layers.
Third, lower-level Brotherhood leaders could decide to run for parliament as independents, thereby circumventing the ban on religious parties that will likely be in place under the new constitution. If Brotherhood leaders made this strategic decision, they might win an impressive number of seats. Dozens of candidates often compete for each parliamentary seat, which means that a candidate can often advance to a second round of voting with an otherwise small share of the total vote. Moreover, parliamentary districts may correspond with the Brotherhood’s own internal administrative districts, and the organization’s notorious group discipline would enable local units to mobilize campaigns far more efficiently than perhaps any other political party. By returning to parliament, the Brotherhood might once again win the political influence to agitate for its interests.
Each of these strategies, of course, depends on the Brotherhood — or at least those Muslim Brothers not in jail — accepting that the events of this summer are irreversible. That’s not the kind of realism one expects in the short run from a profoundly ideological and power-hungry group. But it’s an approach the group’s leaders might be forced to embrace once Morsi and his high-ranking Brotherhood colleagues are inevitably convicted.
Eric Trager is the Wagner Fellow at The Washington Institute.
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BICOM Briefing: Israeli policy on the Negev Bedouin
- The Israeli government is attempting to resolve long standing and complex land and housing issues affecting Bedouin communities in the Negev through legislation following a series of inquiries and a period of consultation.
- Israel’s policy is to legalise many of the existing villages and to compensate Bedouin for long standing land claims, in order to create a functioning planning system for the overall development of the region, and to lift Bedouin communities out of poverty.
- The Israeli government argues that to achieve these goals, there has to be some rationalisation of the settlement structure, by merging smaller and more disparate communities into more economically viable villages, and an end to illegal construction in the Negev.
- Israeli authorities have allocated NIS 7 billion (£1.24 billion) to settle land claims. A further NIS 1.2 billion (£213 million) is allocated for an economic development plan targeted at the empowerment of youth and women and investment in education, employment, transport, and public services.
- Bedouin opponents of the proposals and their supporters object that all Bedouin land claims should be recognised, and object to plans to relocate communities.
- The Israeli government has long grappled with the issue of Bedouin claims to land ownership in Israel’s southern Negev region, and sought to address the problem of unrecognized villages and dwellings.
- The Bedouin population of the Negev, currently numbering approximately 206,000, are among the poorest communities in Israel and have one of the highest birth rates in the world. While overall Israeli population growth stands at 1.8%, the growth rate among Bedouins is 4.4%.
- The history of the Negev Bedouin and their land claims is extremely complex, with many conflicting accounts and interests. The Bedouin and their supporters point to a history of settlement and land cultivation going back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Others challenge the extent to which the Bedouin were settled on the land prior to Israel’s establishment. Israeli authorities point out that Bedouin did not register ownership over lands under Ottoman or British authorities and that Bedouin land claims have no status in state law. The Bedouin and their supporters claim that they have a long standing traditional system of land ownership.
- Many Negev Bedouin were forced from the area in the 1948 war. Those that remained were concentrated by Israeli authorities in the Sayyig region in the northeast area of the Negev, and became Israeli citizens.
- In the 1970s the Israeli government allowed Bedouin to register their land claims. There are today around 2,900 separate claims by 12,000 Bedouin – about 15% of Bedouin adults – to a total of 158,000 acres of Negev land.
- Israel offered compensation in return for settling in developed lots within purpose built towns. About half of the Bedouin now live in these towns, but they are poor, underdeveloped and lack sufficient employment, infrastructure and services. Eleven Bedouin villages were recognised in 2003, and form the Abu Basma Regional Council, which is home to about 30,000 people. A further 90,000 Bedouin live in unrecognised villages and encampments. In the absence of a proper planning regime or law enforcement, 1500-2000 buildings are constructed illegally by Bedouin every year in the Negev.
- Israel is in the process of moving many IDF bases and infrastructure to the south of the country, which the government argues will create investment and employment opportunities for the region, including for the Bedouin.
Current Israeli policy
- In 2008, former Supreme Court judge Eliezer Goldberg led an eight member committee, including two Bedouin representatives, to issue recommendations to the government to resolve the issue.
- The Goldberg Report proposed that whilst the Bedouin were not entitled to land ownership just because they possessed the land for many years, ‘land ownership [should] be recognised to a certain extent, taking into account the historic ties of the Bedouin to the land.’ A majority of the committee members also recommended that ‘unrecognised villages should be recognised to the extent possible.’
- In January 2009, shortly before leaving office, the Olmert government accepted the outline of the Goldberg report. The incoming Netanyahu government then established a team to implement the report led by Ehud Prawer, the head of policy planning in Prime Minister’s office.
- Whilst the Prawer Plan diverged from the Goldberg report in some places, Israeli officials insisted that the plan retained the general principles of the Goldberg report. In contrast to the approach of the 1970s, which was to concentrate the Bedouin in urban towns, current proposals are to create a zoning and planning structure that minimises as far as possible the need for Bedouin to move. Villages will be recognised if they meet certain criteria, to ensure they are viable in terms of size and population.
- However, the Prawer plan received negative coverage in the Israeli and international media. Among other things, it was inaccurately suggested that the government was planning an imminent forced relocation of Bedouin from their homes.
- In September 2011 responsibility was passed to then-cabinet minister Benny Begin to draft legislation, which he did after conducting a further round of consultation with Bedouin communities.
- On June 24th 2013 the Knesset passed the first reading of a piece of legislation to implement the government policy. The bill proposes a system of compensation for Bedouin who have claims to land ownership which currently have no legal status. The government is offering 50% compensation in legally owned land and the remainder in money. The value and nature of the compensation depends on complex criteria such as whether the land is suitable for agriculture or is cultivated, whether the claimant possesses it, and whether a majority of claimants (e.g. family members) accept the compensation.
- Whilst the government plan anticipates that most of the Bedouin will be able to settle in their current locations, Israeli officials estimate that around 30,000 will likely have to relocate for a range of reasons.
- Some live in areas the government says is unsuitable for habitation. Officials estimate that 14,000-15,000 live in the area of Ramat Hovav, a toxic industrial site. Others are in areas used by the military.
- Some existing communities are too spread out to provide infrastructure (sewage, water, electricity etc.) at a reasonable cost. Some communities are being asked to merge so that infrastructure services can be provided. According to Israeli officials, the government currently spends NIS 100 million each year (more than £18 million) just to bus pupils living in disparate communities to schools.
- Some villages are too small to be viable. Though there are other small communities in the Negev such as Kibbutzim, the government argues they are able to sustain themselves economically.
- The government hopes to agree solutions with each community, offering those Bedouin who have to move a choice of being settled in an urban, semi-urban or rural community. Some will be absorbed into existing communities and some new communities may be established. However, the government claims that only around 3,000 Bedouin will have to move more than a distance of between a few hundred metres or a few kilometres.
- The government argues that the legislation to regularise settlement and land ownership as part of an integrated plan to improve living conditions and quality of life for the Bedouin and lift the population out of poverty. Currently only 4% of Bedouin are university graduates and the unemployment rate among Bedouin is 35% as opposed to 7% for Israel as a whole.
Opposition to the plans
- There have been strenuous objections to the bill from Israeli civil rights groups and representatives of the Bedouin. They say the Bedouin were not fully consulted and that the ‘listening period’ took place after the finalisation of the bill and did not lead to any substantial changes.
- They reject the premise that current Bedouin land claims and settlements are illegal, arguing that the bill does not provide sufficient recognition of the historical connection between the Bedouin and the Negev and the long standing presence of many unrecognised villages.
- The Bedouin strongly object to any attempt to move or concentrate communities, accusing the government of attempting to restrict Bedouin settlement and make room for more Jewish communities. They also argue that the land on which they are currently living is of paramount importance to them and their main source of income.
- On the other hand, there are objections from some Jewish writers and NGOs who argue there is no basis for the Bedouin claim that they are indigenous people and have lived in their present location since before the time of the British Mandate.
- Such groups also believe that by retroactively legalising tens of thousands of illegal Bedouin structures, the bill would create a justice system that is more lenient for the Bedouin than it is for Jewish citizens.
What happens next?
- The bill passed its first reading in July 2013 and is being prepared for second and third readings by the Knesset Interior Committee; a process beginning in the first week of November.
- Once the legislation has passed all parliamentary stages, a government agency, to be led by retired IDF General Doron Almog, will begin the work of engaging with each community to determine a solution for Bedouin settlement needs and address compensation claims.
- The first reading of the bill was met with vehement opposition from Arab MKs and triggered street protests by groups of Arab Israelis and their supporters. Further protests can be expected as the legislation progresses through the Knesset.