The Israeli government has waved the white flag. After trying to put through a rational plan for the Negev that would bring some aid and infrastructure to their nation’s most impoverished population, Jerusalem has given up. The announcement was greeted as a victory for Israel-bashers that painted the plan created by the government’s director of planning Ehud Prawer and former Cabinet minister Benny Begin as a racist land grab that stole land from the Bedouin. After violent demonstrations supported by a minority of Bedouin and international protests supported by the cast of usual suspects involved in efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state, the Netanyahu government has understandably cut its losses. With so much else to deal with in terms of the Iranian nuclear threat and the peace negotiations with the Palestinians, what was the point of sticking their necks out on an issue where they were getting killed by both the left and the right?
The demise of the Prawer-Begin plan will be celebrated by the left as setback to Israeli control of the Negev and by the right as the collapse of a plan they saw as a dangerous giveaway of state land since it would have allocated vast tracts of desert territory to the nomads. But the only real losers here are the Bedouin. They are the poorest members of Israeli society and many live in ramshackle shantytowns with no infrastructure or state services. In exchange for giving up some of the area that they claimed, albeit without legal proof of ownership, many would have been left in place and a minority would have been moved to new towns where they could have joined the 21st century. While leftist foes of Israel denounced this as paternalism or colonialism, their victory leaves the Bedouin in the same desperate condition. But then again, like those who pose as friends of the Palestinians, the point of the exercise isn’t to help the Arabs; it’s to hurt Israel.
Israeli planners will now go back to the drawing boards to try to do something for the Bedouin whose isolation and pre-modern style of life may seem romantic to those in the West but which, in reality, condemns them to lives of grinding poverty and deprivation. It’s possible that the government will now craft an even more generous plan that will give the Bedouin more land as well as the services they need. But the problem here is that virtually any attempt to give them what they require will run afoul of the notion that any attempt to create infrastructure in the Negev will be misinterpreted as a Zionist plot.
Let there be no mistake about the fact that Israel’s leftist foes don’t give a damn about the Bedouin. Bringing water, sewage, electricity and educational services to camps that can stretch out for miles in places throughout the desert is impossible. While most of the existing Bedouin towns can be left in place, the most far-flung need to be consolidated if the people who live there are not going to be left in shacks with no connections to the country’s first-world economy. Connecting them to the grid means some have to move.
Much like the descendants of the 1948 Palestinian refugees, the Bedouin only serve a purpose to Israel-bashers if they can be portrayed as victims of the Zionists. They don’t care that the main purpose of the Prawer-Begin plan was to help the Bedouin. Those who claim to demonstrate on their behalf have done nothing for either group. Indeed, the more miserable their existence, the better they like it. Any deprivation faced by this population is fine, so long as it serves to make the Israelis look like exploiters. The crocodile tears they shed for the Bedouin will be swiftly forgotten as they move on to other issues and Israelis who argued about it will similarly push them to the back of the national agenda.
Just like the Palestinian refugees who have been kept homeless for generations in order to serve as a standing argument against Israel—while an equal number of Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands were resettled in Israel or the West—the leftist foes of Israel are content to let the Bedouin rot in ramshackle tents. That’s where they will remain until Israel finally puts forward a new idea that will be, no matter how generous, denounced just as furiously by Israel’s enemies. Those who think the demise of the Prawer-Begin plan is good for the Bedouin are lying.