by Dan Margalit
The plan that Benny Begin and Ehud Prawer created to resolve the land issue in the Negev, following serious discussions headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Goldberg, is fair and logical. Many Bedouins also know this, but they won't dare go against the demagogic trend dominating public discussion in the south.
I have toured the Negev twice in the last three years, once as part of an initiative led by a Jewish organization that claims that Bedouins have been given offers that are too generous. Not all these claims are fictitious, and yet, reason and prudence are on the side of the Prawer-Begin offer.
In the areas nearby the disputed lands, there are kibbutzim founded by the Shomer Hatzair youth movement, and among them are the friends of the Bedouins -- members of the Meretz party. If only the party's views hadn't fallen upon the Bedouins, they too would voice support for the proposed arrangement.
It's a shame, since those who understand the topic know that if the Bedouins accept the offer, it will improve their community's welfare, and they themselves reject the romantic notion of the desert and the tents and the guard dogs, the lifestyle that has damaged their income and education levels.
An opportunity, not a loss
The Jewish state is not an innocent youth in the scouts movement established by Robert Baden-Powell. When they told him it was his duty to strive for a good deed each day, he decided to actualize that directive and held tightly to the hand of an old blind woman to help her cross the road -- even though she had wanted to stay put. The Prawer-Begin Plan is a privilege, not an obligation. It is an opportunity, not a loss.
They don't want it? There is no reason to force it upon them and there is no reason for it to boil over into violent protests. It is up to the government to express sorrow and to announce that it is leaving the door open for the Bedouins, and in the meantime, to stick to two principles: It will not coerce the Bedouins to accept the plan, but it will actively, effectively and aggressively prevent any further deviation or attempt to control more land on their part; and if a Bedouin community supports the plan without even a minority objection, the government will request to implement the plan in that area -- it is up to the government to consider this without waiting for others.
In the distant past, people like David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Tzvi thought it was possible that the Bedouins would convert to Judaism. That is a pipe dream gone from this world. But there is no need to jump from that utopia to the reality of constant conflict. If they want the proposed plan -- great. If not, then not.
At the same time, the government can renew momentum for construction in the Negev for other Israeli citizens. The Israel Defense Forces, in any case, is making its way to the Negev. A giant desert is waiting to bloom. It is up to the government to offer soldiers free housing from Dimona, Yerucham and southward. Of course, also to Bedouin soldiers. In any event, the impact of the plan is moving toward the center of the country with the proposal to extend the train and Ben-Gurion University attracting more and more students.
There is also an employment plan for the Negev even if the Bedouins decide to miss out on this golden opportunity, and that comes without the violence accompanying the present argument.
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