The cabinet voted yesterday 16-2 to approve an emergency amendment to the Citizenship and Entry to Israel Law that limits family unifications for Palestinians from the territories married to Israeli Arabs, such that only some 200 to 250 Palestinians a year will be able to get Israeli citizenship.
The proposal, which still requires Knesset approval, states that only Palestinian women over the age of 25 and Palestinian men over the age of 35 will be allowed to submit requests for family unification. Since existing restrictions on family reunification for Palestinians expire at the end of this month, the government will try to get it through the legislature quickly.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who drafted the proposed amendment, said that "Israel has the right to set principles that deal with entry into the country. European countries also put limits on citizenship after marriage. What's good for them is certainly appropriate for us, given the sensitive security situation in which we find ourselves. This is not about harm to the principle of equality, because this is not about limiting the civic right to marriage. Rather, it is about limiting the granting of citizenship to a spouse who is not an Israeli citizen."
Interior Minister Ophir Pines-Paz, who along with Health Minister Danny Naveh voted against the change in the law, was disappointed by the government decision. He had proposed allowing Palestinian women of all ages to reunite with their husbands, though he supported the age restriction on men. "The main consideration behind the amendment was the security one, and there wasn't enough thought given to humanitarian considerations," he said.
Naveh opposed the decision because, he said, "to keep Israel Jewish and democratic, we must absolutely prevent the granting of citizenship to Palestinians through marriage to Israelis."
Attorney General Menachem Mazuz said there was no guarantee that the High Court of Justice would approve the government decision. Livni said that the amendment was the minimum acceptable to the Shin Bet security service and the maximum acceptable to the attorney general.
National Security Advisor Giora Eiland outlined the recommendations of a panel he headed that examined current immigration policies. The panel recommended bringing Israeli law into line with laws passed in recent years by Holland and Denmark that put limits on the naturalization of Muslim immigrants.
Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that "Israel is threatened by terror and by the right of return. Instead of making it easier for Palestinians who want to get citizenship, we should make the process much more difficult, in order to guarantee Israel's security and a Jewish majority in Israel."
The cabinet's decision drew angry reactions from both left and right.
Yahad MKs Roman Bronfman and Zahava Gal-On said the decision stains the law books.
"This is disgraceful discrimination that ignores the humanitarian considerations behind family reunification," they said in a joint statement.
Shas MK Eli Yishai said the decision "means that a sovereign Israeli government has approved a back-door `right of return' - which could become a threat to the Israeli enterprise."
National Religious Party MK Zevulun Orlev said the decision "pulls a brick out of the wall of defense of Israel as a Jewish state," while Likud MK Ayoub Kara called it "another sign of the spread of the cancerous disease of post-Zionism."
National Union lawmaker Aryeh Eldad called it "a continuation of the anti-Zionist line taken by Ariel Sharon's government - and if the government is not replaced, it will turn the state into a binational one in a very short time."