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The amendment to emergency regulations for family unification does not allow Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens to receive citizenship or permanent residency. However, it does allow for the submission of a new family unification request, which eventually could lead to a permit for staying in Israel. The amendment has no bearing on those who already have started the citizenship request process.

The family unification process is gradual, and takes about 4.5 years to receive citizenship and up to even 5 years for permanent residency in the case of East Jerusalem residents. But in reality, the process can take even longer.

The process begins with the submission of a request for citizenship or residency by the Palestinian spouse of an Israeli citizen. If accepted, the Palestinian receives a permit to stay in the country, which includes a work permit. The next stage involves a request for temporary residency, which must be renewed each year. At the end of the process, the Israeli's spouse is supposed to receive citizenship, while the spouse of an East Jerusalem resident with an Israeli identity card is supposed to receive permanent residency.

The original emergency regulation was comprised of two parts: a prohibition against accepting new family unification requests and requests made by those who already are in the process of upgrading their status.

The government approved abatements in the emergency regulation on Sunday, allowing men over the age of 35 and women over the age of 25 to submit family unification applications.

The conventional wisdom was that the amendment referred to both parts of the emergency regulation, and that it would enable progress in the graduated process.

But an examination of the amendment's text shows that while new applications will be accepted, those already involved in the upgrading of residential status will not.

This affects people who have been prevented from moving forward to receive permanent residency status over the last three years and now will have to wait at least another year.

And those submitting new requests will not be upgraded, but their status will be frozen at the stage where they are permitted to be in the country.

These are not symbolic differences. Those who have permission to be in the country are not eligible for health insurance and do not receive National Insurance Institute financial support.

And those with temporary residence status are required to go through a lengthy and difficult renewal process every year.

Attorney Avraham Sharon-Weiss of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said yesterday the group would return to the High Court of Justice and ask for a ruling on petitions filed against the emergency regulations.

He said that the claim that there had been significant abatements in the regulations "misled the public."

The Justice Ministry responded that "the government discussed and approved the amendment after discussing it at length in the ministerial legislation committee."