Israel Faces Tree Crisis, Negev Protests

JERUSALEM (AP) – Israel’s fragile ruling coalition faced a new crisis on Wednesday following protests by Bedouins against the planting of trees by nationalists on disputed land in the Negev desert.

On Tuesday night, protesters threw stones at vehicles on a road near Beersheba, blocked the train line and set a vehicle on fire. Two officers were injured in the riots, police said, and local press reported the arrest of at least 18 people.

The conflict over the trees planted in the Negev, southern Israel and where Bedouin peoples not recognized by the state live, has divided the government.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called for the plantation to be stopped and the situation reassessed, while the Islamist Ra’am party has threatened not to cast its votes in parliament in protest. Both are part of the fragile eight-party coalition that governs the country.

Ra’am won four seats in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, which has 120 deputies, in last year’s elections thanks to the strong support of Israel’s Bedouin citizens. The leader of the formation, Mansour Abbas, said on Twitter that “a tree is not more important than a person.”

Other hardline members of the diverse coalition have vowed to keep up the pressure.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett heads the group that joined forces in June to form a government to end the country’s long political stalemate. The coalition is made up of small parties, from Islamists and progressives to ultranationalists, united only by their opposition to the previous leader, Benjamin Netanyahu.

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