The Existing Laws Suffice

The Knesset is to vote today on the second and third readings of a government bill to prevent granting permanent residency or citizenship to a Palestinian from the territories who marries an Israeli citizen. The bill was approved yesterday, with some modifications, after a stormy debate in the Knesset Interior Committee.

The Knesset is to vote today on the second and third readings of a government bill to prevent granting permanent residency or citizenship to a Palestinian from the territories who marries an Israeli citizen. The bill was approved yesterday, with some modifications, after a stormy debate in the Knesset Interior Committee.

The bill seeks to change the approach that has existed for many years. Currently Israeli citizenship is given to residents of the territories under the Citizenship Law: if one of the spouses in a marriage is an Israeli citizen, the other spouse receives citizenship through a naturalization process. Licenses for permanent residence status are given to residents of the territories whose spouses are permanent residents of Israel, for the purposes of family reunifications, on the basis of the authority vested in the interior minister by the Law of Entry to Israel. The IDF commander in a relevant area is also allowed to grant residency.

According to the government bill, the interior minister will no longer be allowed to grant citizenship to a resident of the territories according to the Citizenship Law, nor will the minister be empowered to grant a permanent residency license on the basis of the Law of Entry to the country. Nor will an IDF commander have the authority to grant a resident of the territories a permit for being inside Israel.

The reason for the legislation is explained by the involvement in the armed conflict between Israel and the Palestinians by a number of residents from the territories who carried Israeli identity papers as a result of family reunifications. The law's validity has been limited to one year to examine its necessity in light of the security needs of the country.

The law includes some exceptions to the sweeping ban it imposes: it will be possible to grant a resident of the territories with citizenship, residency or permission to be in the country for special personal reasons, or for national interests. These exceptions are meant to soften the severity of the law, which obstructs family reunification, a basic humanitarian right. There is nothing in these exceptions to solve the overall problematics of the bill, which not only harms Israeli citizens who want to marry a resident of the territories but also the children of such couples. In light of these issues, the constitutionality of the law is suspect, since on the face of it the law contradicts basic values of the state, such as equality before the law of all citizens, Jew and Arab alike.

On the assumption that the bill is indeed for security purposes, as the government claims, the bill appears to be both an unnecessarily vehement and unbalanced reaction to the security situation. In any case the existing law does not grant automatic citizenship in case of a marriage by an Israeli citizen to a non-Israeli. The naturalization process or the process of granting permanent residency to a foreign spouse is gradual and complex, and gives the interior minister broad leeway, control and supervision over granting the citizenship. The existing law also enables dealing with security problems, if they indeed exist. There is no essential need that justifies such a problematic rule being written into Israeli law and becoming part of it.