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Israel drops controversial Bedouin relocation plan after fierce debate
Agence France Presse
Fernando Perez Molina, the President of Guatemala, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hug during their meeting in Jerusalem, Monday, Dec. 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty, Pool)
Fernando Perez Molina, the President of Guatemala, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hug during their meeting in Jerusalem, Monday, Dec. 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty, Pool)
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OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israel is scrapping a controversial draft law to relocate tens of thousands of longtime Bedouin residents of the Negev desert, an official said Thursday.

Benny Begin, tasked with implementing the so-called Prawer Plan, said he had recommended to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “end the debate on the law” in parliament.

“The prime minister accepted this proposal,” he said at a Tel Aviv news conference, days after it emerged that the governing coalition was divided on the proposed legislation.

The bill, which would have seen the demolition of some 40 unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev and the relocation of between 30,000 and 40,000 people, passed a preliminary ministerial vote in January.

But it faced intense objection from members of the parliament both from the right, whose MPs said the compensation offered in land and money was too generous, and from the left, which said it was racist and accused the Jewish state of usurping the land of indigenous Arabs. 

After a heated debate this week of the parliamentary interior committee, coalition chairman Yariv Levin of Netanyahu’s Likud party said he would not pass the Prawer Plan into law.

Begin rejected the notion that a series of demonstrations in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip against the plan forced the about-turn. 

“There is no majority in the coalition for the bill,” he said.

Had the Prawer Plan been adopted, it would have also seen the confiscation of more than 700,000 dunams of land claimed by the Bedouin community.

Orit Struk, an MP for the far-right Jewish Home, commended the decision to strike down the bill, which she described as “wrong and unjust.”

Begin’s move proved that “correct political actions can change past mistakes,” she said in a statement.

Arab Israeli MP Mohammed Barakeh of Hadash welcomed the move, but warned of “excessive optimism” as the plan was “still on in essence” and the “struggle for our people in the Naqab [Negev] must continue.”

About 260,000 Bedouin live in Israel, mostly in and around the Negev in the arid south. More than half live in unrecognized villages without utilities and many in extreme poverty. 

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