Coalition to Hold Knesset Vote on Controversial Palestinian Citizenship Bill, Even Without Clear Majority

Passed in 2003 and renewed annually, the citizenship law was designed, on security grounds, to prevent West Bank residents who marry Israeli citizens from receiving Israeli citizenship

Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov
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Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked in the Knesset.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked in the Knesset.Credit: Dani Shem-Tov/Knesset Spokesperson's Office
Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov

The government coalition plans to have the Knesset vote on controversial temporary legislation that would extend the current ban on the granting of Israeli citizenship to Palestinians married to Israelis. The vote is to be held even though there isn’t currently sufficient support for the legislation to assure its passage.

There is opposition to the legislation within the coalition, and the opposition in parliament has refused to support it. The current ban is provided for in an emergency order set to expire on July 6, a week from Tuesday. Proponents of the legislation in the coalition hope that by the time the bill comes to a vote, its opponents in the coalition will come around – or that the opposition Likud party can be portrayed as responsible for its failure to pass.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and Housing Minister Zeev Elkin have been trying since last week to reach a compromise with the United Arab List, some of whose members said they would vote against it. Elkin offered to appoint a deputy minister from the United Arab List in his own ministry in return for the party’s support for the legislation. Coalition sources said that, even if United Arab List chairman Mansour Abbas were to compromise on the language of the legislation, as he seems to be willing to do, he would not be able to impose his stance on his party colleagues, Knesset members Mazen Ghanayim, Walid Taha and Saeed Alkharumi.

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The temporary amendment to the Citizenship Law was passed in 2003, during the second intifada. Its purpose was, on security grounds, to prevent residents of the West Bank who married Israeli citizens from receiving Israeli citizenship. It has been renewed on an annual basis since, and work on extending it again was begun by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-led government before it was replaced this month. Since then, however, Likud has refused to support the extension, saying that the party would not assist the coalition in overcoming the obstacles resulting from the diverse views among the parties that make it up.

If the current legislation expires, the immediate significance would be limited, because Interior Minister Shaked has the authority to reject Palestinian applications for Israeli citizenship in Israel. On Sunday, Shaked again called on the opposition to vote in favor of the amendment, or at least to abstain “if they don’t want to immediately naturalize 15,000 Palestinians.”

Prior to any vote, the final text of the legislation will have to be approved. Unlike most legislation, which requires three or four votes for final passage, this temporary legislation can be passed in a single Knesset vote. Last week a planned vote to extend the amendment was postponed due to concern that it would fail to pass, but this time, the coalition plans to present it for a vote even if a majority in favor is not assured.

If the government loses the vote, the amendment could be presented for another vote, but Shaked, who as interior minister is responsible for applying the law, warned that this would have implications on its ability to withstand any challenge to it in the High Court of Justice.

In an effort to attract the support of opposition members of the Knesset, the coalition will ask for a roll call vote, in which Knesset members individually must state their positions. Such a vote, which requires the support of 20 Knesset members, would be a way of highlighting a shift against the legislation by opposition Knesset members who supported the legislation before Netanyahu’s government left office. It is also hoped that some members of the opposition would absent themselves from the vote, but other than Likud lawmaker Avi Dichter, no Knesset member is known to be considering such an option.

At Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Freige (Meretz) said, “The stability of the government is more important than anything else,” but he did not say how he intended to vote. Last week he told Kan public radio that “the citizenship law is racist, and I reject it even at the cost of my role as a cabinet minister.” His Meretz colleague MK Mossi Raz said he would vote against the bill.

Labor Party Knesset member Ibtisam Mara’ana said she would vote in accordance with her faction’s decision, but she expressed her opposition to the bill. Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, who is Labor Party chairwoman, said she would bring the matter to a vote among her party’s Knesset members.

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