A view from above: Town of Lehavim in the Negev

Today (Sunday) the Israeli government approved the establishment of 5 new settlements in the Mevo’ot Arad region, including a new Bedouin settlement. Regavim called the decision a “positive and proactive Zionist settlement policy decision.”

The Regavim Movement welcomed this morning government’s decision to establish five new settlements in the Mevo’ot Arad region. Among the slated new communities is a new all-Bedouin settlement.

Regavim’s statement pointed out that today’s decision affirms decisions taken by the previous government in 2011 and 2014.

“The Mevo’ot Arad region is a strategic area for the State of Israel, and strengthening this region through the establishment of new settlements is an expression of basic Zionist ideals, using planning and regulation of land resources for settlement in a manner that will make the Negev desert bloom. We congratulate Minister of Interior Ayelet Shaked for her leadership in this matter.”

Regavim also welcomed the establishment of a new Bedouin community in the region, provided that it is established in accordance with the planning criteria set for the establishment of the other new settlements in Mevo’ot Arad, and subject to the ‘convergence model’ for relocation of Bedouin squatters formulated by the current government:

“Several months ago, the government approved the establishment of three new settlements and a new supra-tribal city for the Bedouin sector, subject to the ‘convergence model’, which includes detailed identification of the encampment clusters slated for relocation, signed consent and relocation commitments by 70% of those slated for relocation to the new community, and clear deadlines for relocation. These same criteria must be applied to the new community approved in today’s decision.”

Bir Hadaj in the Negev

Regavim: Removing the enforcement chapter from the new Five Year Plan for the Bedouin sector means surrender, and the establishment of Bedouistan in the Negev

Enforcement statistics for the past several years are unequivocal: New illegal construction in the Bedouin squatters’ camps is down, and law enforcement is up – significantly, reaching its peak in 2021 – as a result of the previous government’s policies and actions: The Kaminitz Law of 2018 and the enforcement chapter of the Five Year Plan for the Bedouin Sector, launched in 2017.

By removing the enforcement chapter from the new Five Year Plan for the Bedouin Sector, the government has turned its back on the Negev and bartered away the south of Israel to the Islamic Movement.

The decrease in illegal construction in the squatters’ camps of the Negev that has been documented over the past several years is attributable to two factors: The Kaminitz Law, and the enforcement chapter of the Five Year Plan – which has just expired.

Removal of the enforcement chapter from the Five Year Plan that is now being launched will undermine enforcement bodies and their ability to stop the sprawl of illegal settlement, and will put wind in the sails of illegal construction, resulting in the loss of more and more state land in the Negev.

Meir Deutsch, Director General of Regavim, responded to the government’s decision, announced this evening (Thursday), to launch the new masterplan for the Negev – without the inclusion of an enforcement chapter: “Regavim has been working for years to encourage the government to prevent the rise of “Bedouistan,” the state-within-the-state in the Negev. In the past few years we began to see encouraging signs of progress in enforcement against illegal construction, due to the Kaminitz Law and the previous Five Year Plan. Removing the enforcement chapter from the new Five Year Plan will reverse these gains. Bennet and Shaked, Elkin and Lieberman all campaigned on their commitment to restore governance to the Negev, but it now appears that it’s not only business owners in the Negev who been abandoned to extortionist protection rackets. The Israeli government has met the same fate.”

KKL tree-planting on state land, before it was stopped

Following the decision to suspend the KKL forestation project in southern Israel, the Regavim Movement decried the government’s capitulation, charging this decision as continued “protection payments” to Mansour Abbas that make the next round of violence and domestic terrorism inevitable.

The Raam Party and the Bedouin know full well that they can dictate to the government through the use of political pressure, strongarm tactics and violence. When you cave in to terrorism and blackmail, you invite the next round of violence. Prime Minister Bennett and Interior Minister Shaked have repeatedly asked that the “government of change” be judged by actions, not words. Today, the government’s decision to surrender to terrorism and to suspend the planting project is a an action that speaks louder than words. The words we’re hearing are Ayelet Shaked’s – but the tune the government is dancing to is being sung by Mansour Abbas.

The Negev from above

Despite heavy pressure by the Raam Party to make substantive changes in the wording of the government’s decision, cooperation between Regavim and the staff of Minister of Interior Ayelet Shaked’s office resulted in wording virtually identical to the proposal tabled by the Netanyahu government.

Earlier today (Wednesday), the government approved plans for a new Bedouin city and three rural Bedouin communities, intended for the resettlement of residents of illegal squatters’ camps who would be brought into legal, permanent communities.

Regavim’s spokesperson noted that despite the very heavy pressure from the Raam Party to make changes in the government’s decision, the wording of the decision that was approved is virtually identical to that of the proposal tabled by the Netanyahu government. The language that was eventually adopted was the product of several months of intensive consultation and joint effort between Regavim and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked’s staff.

Meir Deutsch, Director General of Regavim, reacted to this morning’s decision: “We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: This plan is both an opportunity, and a risk.”

“On the one hand, this plan may lead to real change in the Negev, the restoration of state lands to the government’s hands and the beginning of the process of resettlement of the Bedouin squatters who have taken over the open spaces of the Negev. This plan envisions relocation into legal, organized settlements rather than the fictitious “expansion” of existing settlements that was standard procedure over the past decade. The decision approved by the government today establishes criteria for relocating residents of the Bedouin encampments into permanent settlements according to clearly-defined timetables; if the criteria are not met, the plan to create new settlements will be cancelled.”

On the other hand, the merit of the government’s plan must be proven by action, not intentions. To date, Israeli governments have been most adept at offering “carrots” but have failed to use “sticks” and enforce the conditions of previous plans. This plan, like its predecessors, is built on carrots and sticks, and it’s up to the government to prove that it intends to see the program through – including the evacuation of the squatters’ camps and the return of state land on which the Bedouin are currently squatting illegally, to state hands. The failed policy of endless land allocations for the Bedouin sector must come to an end.”

“If the government stays the course and sees the program approved today through – both carrots and sticks – it will be the first real progress toward a better future for the Negev and for the restoration of national resources to government jurisdiction.”