The government is planning legislative amendments that will make it more difficult for non-Jews to receive Israeli citizenship or permanent-resident status in Israel. The move is aimed against granting legal status to Palestinians and other foreigners who have married Israeli citizens.
The new legislation will be based on the demographic consideration of ensuring a solid Jewish majority in Israel over time, with the purpose of preserving the state's Jewish identity.
A special discussion convened yesterday by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon culminated in a decision to establish a committee, headed by Interior Minister Ophir Pines-Paz, that will formulate a new immigration policy and coordinate the preparation of the legislative amendments.
While the committee does its work, the government will work toward extending the validity of the "temporary emergency regulation" from 2003 that almost completely prevents "family unification" and the granting of legal status to Palestinians who have married Israeli Arabs.
The emergency regulation is scheduled to expire at the end of May.
At yesterday's meeting, Sharon upheld the position presented to him stating that the matter is one of principle vis-a-vis the identity of the state, and not just a security problem. "There is no need to hide behind security arguments," Sharon said. "There is a need for the existence of a Jewish state."
The National Security Council, in conjunction with other governmental entities and senior jurists from academe, has been preparing the groundwork for the new legislation in recent months, and NSC chairman Giora Eiland presented the team's conclusions at yesterday's meeting.
Eiland said the starting point for the team's work was the need to preserve the character of Israel as a state in which the Jewish nation exercises its right to national self-determination, noting the need to distinguish between granting equal individual rights to all citizens and granting national rights to minorities.
The concern that accompanied the team's work, he added, was that the growth in the size of the Arab minority would lead to increased demands on its part for national rights and more pressure to turn Israel into "a bi-national state" or "a state of all its citizens."
The team's working assumption was that in order to preserve the Jewish identity of the state, there is a need to ensure a solid Jewish majority over time, together with the fact that the country does not want to absorb weak populations that would constitute a burden on the welfare system.
The security factor was also taken into account - the existence of a large population that identifies with the Palestinians, the Palestinian desire for exercising "the right of return" within Israel, and the calls around the world for the "one-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In order to guarantee a stable Jewish majority, steps had to be taken now, Eiland said.
The NSC was assisted in its work by the former head of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, Prof. Ruth Gabizon, and Prof. Jaffa Zilbershats, dean of the Faculty of Law at Bar-Ilan University. Additional advisors included demographer Prof. Sergio DellaPergola, former minister Prof. Amnon Rubinstein and public administration expert Prof. Yehezkel Dror.
Yuval Yoaz adds: Association for Civil Rights in Israel announced yesterday that it "vehemently objects to the intention to again extend the racist temporary emergency regulation that prevents Palestinian spouses of Israelis to receive [legal] status in Israel."
According to ACRI, Sharon's comment with regard to there being no need to hide behind security arguments "supports the association's arguments in the High Court of Justice that the security excuse was just a cover for demographic reasons."
"The position today of Prime Minister Sharon corresponds with the racist and unlawful purpose of the law that restricts family unification in Israel," said attorney Orna Cohen of Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Majority Rights in Israel. "Until now, the State Prosecution's Office has denied in the High Court of Justice that the purpose of the law is a demographic one, and now its true purpose has been exposed."