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.”

Photo credit: Meir Elipur

Today, we participated in an emergency meeting organized by the Land of Israel Caucus in the Knesset to demand security and safety for the Negev.

Meir Deutsch, Regavim’s Director General, spoke to the Members of Knesset about the Negev predicament, and explained why Bedouin settlements that have been legalized are, in effect, still squatter camps.

The retrospective legalizations have not provided appropriate solutions for the Bedouin residents, nor have they solved the root problem of the loss of governance in the Negev.

The government decision to approve three Bedouin settlements and to connect illegal structures to the electricity grid could either lead to the regulating of settlement in the Negev and the Galilee, or the exact opposite: the abandonment of these areas. The devil is always in the details.

Regulating Bedouin settlements in the Negev and merging them into legal towns – yes. Encouraging more lawlessness – no.

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Regavim has also been at the forefront against Ra’am’s Electricity Law, which endangers the rule of law. Ra’am, headed by MK Mansour Abbas, has threatened to dismantle the government coalition if its proposed amendment to the Electricity Law, which seeks to connect tens of thousands of illegal structures to the national electricity grid, is not passed.

The legislative amendment seeks to connect existing and all future illegal structures. This extortionate bill endangers the rule of law and national planning and construction policy. And it’s clear that approval of this law will result in a surge in illegal construction.

One of the state’s most effective tools against the national epidemic of illegal construction is the existing ban on connecting structures erected without a permit to the electricity grid.

Although there’s a certain degree of logic in approving electrical connections for structures for which the government intends to approve permits, a wholesale whitewashing of illegal construction would be a disaster.

Structures that lack permits should meet basic criteria to be approved:

  1. Only structures built before 2018 and the enactment of the Kaminitz Law, which included clear and enforceable criteria for construction.
  2. Only structures for which a detailed outline plan has been submitted by the state, and not by various entities such as local authorities.
  3. A bank guarantee of NIS 40,000 should be deposited. If the plan is not approved and a building permit is not obtained, the guarantee will be forfeited.
  4. If judicial or administrative orders of demolition for the structures haven’t been issued.
  5. The connection will be temporary; permanent electrical connection will be contingent on approval of the state’s plan and issuance of a building permit.