Sharp criticism was voiced across the political spectrum on Wednesday at the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environmental Committee over a proposed amendment to the Citizenship and Entry Law, which would obligate anyone without a valid residency permit to leave the country for a cooling-off period of one to five years.

Most non-residents seeking legal status are in the country illegally and since the Interior Ministry's population registry - the body that issues permits, visas and citizenship - makes it very hard for non-Jews to obtain residency permits. The amendment would therefore affect tens of thousands of families with at least one non-resident member.

If passed, the amendment could revolutionize the enforcement of immigration policy, further shut the gates of entry to non-Jews and greatly damage the right of Israelis to choose their life partners.

MK Raleb Majadele (Labor), chairman of the committee, asked the Interior Ministry to send statistics describing the population that the amendment would most likely affect.

Meretz Chairman Yossi Beilin said he was ashamed of the Justice Ministry for supporting such a proposal. "How can the ministry defend such a racist amendment? A devilish brain is behind this amendment," Beilin said.

MK Yoram Marciano (Labor) said, "We must prohibit such a bad law from passing," while MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) said, "This is an unprecedented catastrophe. The government caused them to be illegal residents without their consent."

MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) said, "There is nothing positive about this law. It hurts a long line of people."

MK Marina Solodkin (Kadima) said "The law will disrupt the normal lives of the people in the country."

In addition, MK Yitzhak Aharonovich (Yisrael Beiteinu) said he would demand that the law not apply to immediate family members.

The government has simultaneously proposed extending the Citizenship and Entry Law by two years, until the end of 2008, despite the harsh criticism leveled at it by the High Court of Justice.

The current temporary order is valid until January 16, 2007, and must either be extended or replaced before that date. Last week, the interior ministry's legal adviser, Yehuda Zameret, issued a memorandum of the new draft law.

The government seeks to expand the law to cover several "threatening states," presumably mainly Arab and Muslim countries.

The bill gives Israel the right to reject an applicant who meets all the criteria "if in the applicant's country of residency or if within his vicinity of residence activities liable to endanger the security of the State of Israel or its citizens take place." This clause ostensibly gives Israel the right to reject any resident of the Palestinian Authority or any Arab country.

The Hadash Party submitted a motion of no-confidence to the government Wednesday because of the government's intention of extending the law. MK Mohammed Barakeh said that, "The government has decided to worsen the law to a racist direction, using excusing that have no basis."