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The chances aren't too bad that the illegal aliens bill will pass its first reading in the Knesset today.

There is widespread agreement in the Knesset among almost all Zionist parties to make it more difficult for non-Jews to obtain citizenship here.

The right, of course, approves of such a move. Former interior minister Ophir Pines-Paz of Labor was partner to the bill's creation and a signatory to it, while former interior minister Eli Yishai (Shas) told Haaretz last week the law should be made more stringent, because "I want your children to marry Jews and not to assimilate."

The new law would require all illegal aliens to leave the country for up to five years, even if they are married to Israelis. An illegal alien, according to the law, might be the aged parent of a new immigrant, the partner of an Israeli citizen, a foreign worker, or the child, by a previous marriage, of a new immigrant. The law also curbs the right to marry: A person who chooses to marry an illegal alien will have to part from that person for a long period or move abroad with his or her spouse.

A committee of experts headed by Professor Amnon Rubinstein has been reviewing the bill, which was approved by the cabinet six months ago. Rubinstein calls the clause calling for people who overstay their legal visa by a month to go abroad for a year "unreasonable, arbitrary and cruel punishment." The Interior Ministry says the law will not apply to those who innocently overstayed their visas, and Rubinstein's committee is supposed to determine immigration policy, not the treatment of illegal aliens.

Herein lies the trap: the bill grants an exemption of going abroad to those who submit a citizenship application within three months after the law goes into effect. However, because of a special order in effect that freezes the citizenship process for Palestinians, couples comprised of one Israeli and one Palestinian have not been able to submit their requests for family unification for over three years. Does this mean that the law (and the requirement to leave the country) will apply retroactively to all Israeli-Palestinian couples who have married is recent years? The Interior Ministry has promised it will allow such couples to submit their requests.