Israel approves five new settlements in the Negev
Israel has on Sunday approved five new settlements in the eastern part of the Negev (also called Naqab in Arabic), amid mounting tensions between local Jewish and Palestinian Bedouin communities over land ownership, Israeli media reported on Sunday.
Four of the approved settlements will be for Jewish settlers, including one kibbutz (agricultural cooperative community), after the cabinet approved it in a committee session that descended into a screaming match following strong opposition from left-wing ministers.
The cabinet decision also authorised the establishment of a Palestinian Bedouin village, an extremely rare provision given that the Israeli government generally denies building permits to members of the local Palestinian communities.
The Negev desert is home to over 300,000 Palestinian Bedouins, who are extremely marginalised and constitute Israel's poorest minority.
Israel has long pursued a policy to sedentarise and concentrate this community in a handful of state-built cities.
While many Bedouins have agreed to live in these cities, others continue to live in their historic villages and cultivate their ancestral lands - much of which is considered by Israel as state property, since Bedouin communities were expropriated at the time of Israel's creation or they failed to register their deeds with the new authorities.
These villages are "unrecognised" by the Israeli government and lack basic services - be it road, electricity, water or schools.
The provision to establish a recognised Bedouin village in the Negev brings Israel's ruling coalition one step closer to fulfilling long-awaited concessions promised to Ra'am, the first Palestinian party to be part of a ruling coalition in Israel.
The Negev is a key base of the party, who promised to push for the recognition of unrecognised Bedouin villages by the Israeli government.
The concession could also be a mean to appease tensions with the Bedouins, which have reached new heights recently over a tree-planting initiative launched by Israeli authorities and targeting several 'unrecognised' Bedouin villages.
A further five Jewish settlements in the southern Negev are also in the early planning stages.