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Tensions Erupt in Israel’s Coalition Government Over Disputed Negev Desert Land

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (Via Yair Lapid/Twitter)

The fragile governing coalition in Israel is facing a crisis as protests by Arab Bedouin communities against tree-planting on disputed land in the Negev desert have escalated, leading to clashed with police and arrests. The controversy centers on a forestry project that has pitted the Bedouin community against authorities, with the community viewing it as part of a larger attempt to confiscate grazing lands and force them into planned communities. Israeli authorities, however, argue that they need to move the Bedouin from their existing settlements into planned towns to provide them with public services.

As tensions boiled over, protesters blocked a railway line, torched a vehicle, and hurled stones at vehicles on a highway near Beersheba, leaving two police officers wounded and at least 18 people arrested. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called for a halt to the tree-planting and a reassessment of the situation, while the Islamist Ra’am party, a member of the governing coalition, threatened to withhold its votes in parliament in protest. The party leader, Mansour Abbas, tweeted that “a tree is not more important than a person,” highlighting the deep divisions within the coalition.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (Via Yair Lapid/Twitter)

Hawkish members have pledged to press on with the project, claiming that the government is being bullied by “police pressure, strong-arm tactics and violence” from the Bedouin community. Regavim, a nationalist group opposed to normalizing the status of Bedouin villages, accused the government of caving in to political pressure. The standoff is part of a larger historical dispute that has been simmering for decades, with the Bedouin community facing widespread discrimination and many having close family ties to Palestinians and identifying with their cause.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that the Bedouin community has long been divided over issues such as land rights and development, with some members seeking greater integration with the Jewish population and others advocating for greater autonomy. As tensions continue to escalate, the very survival of Israel’s fragile governing coalition hangs in the balance, with the Bedouin dispute serving as a critical test of the coalition’s ability to navigate the complex and often treacherous terrain of Israeli politics. The outcome of this crisis will have significant implications for the future of Israel’s Arab minority and the country’s fragile governing coalition.

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