January 28, 2013 - 1:00am

The Israeli cabinet approved on Sunday a controversial plan regulating Bedouin lands in the southern Negev Desert, local media reported.

The plan, which was approved in principle by cabinet in September 2011, aimed at resolving the issue of unrecognized Bedouin communities and their ownership of lands before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

The plan recommends allocation of NIS 1.2 billion (about 300 million U.S. dollars) to expand current Bedouin communities and build new ones.

It also suggests a regulation process according which the lands that will not be registered to their owners on Israeli records in the next five years will be turned over to the state.

The plan, which does not present any specific move in order to improve the socioeconomic condition of the poverty-stricken Bedouins, mostly rejects the land claims of the Bedouins and threatens to demolish 20,000 huts. It also includes moving about 100,000 people from their current houses to communities that haven 't been established yet.

There are nearly 200,000 Bedouins in Israel, a desert-dwelling Arab ethnic group. More than half of them reside in the Negev Desert.

The Bedouins live mostly in towns and villages, some of them built before 1948, without infrastructure or option for any legal construction.

Bedouin activists slammed the plan, which was drafted without their participation.

"There are a lot of clauses in the plan that we do not agree with," chairman of the unrecognized Bedouin villages association, Ibrahim al-Wakili told Ynet news website on Sunday.

"We were not a part of this move, which includes evacuating and transferring the Bedouins from one place to another," he added.

"First of all, we need the country to better the conditions we are living in. We are all for regulation of the Bedouin settlement in the Negev, but in coordination with the people themselves," he stressed.

During a weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday in which the plan was approved, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu billed the plan as "historic."

"The purpose of this historic decision is to put an end to a reality in which for 65 years the country lost its control over lands on which the Bedouins have spread out," Netanyahu said.


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