The State Prosecutor’s Office said it backs Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked’s directive to treat Palestinian applications for family unification as if a temporary law barring most of the applications was still in effect.
The temporary Citizenship Law, which generally barred granting Israeli residency rights to Palestinians who married Israelis, expired four months ago, after the Knesset failed to extend it. The State Prosecutor's Office urged the Jerusalem District Court to uphold Shaked's policy, however, because it said the expiration of the law is temporary.
Since the law expired, thousands of applications by West Bank Palestinians for family unification have been filed, but most of them have not been processed.
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While the Citizenship Law was in force, the family unification applications to the Interior Ministry were automatically rejected unless the interior minister decided otherwise.
After the law expired in July, the applications were due to be approved automatically unless the Shin Bet security service cited a specific national security risk or unless the interior minister intervened. But, as Haaretz reported in September, Shaked directed Population Authority officials to continue to act as if the law was in effect. Legislation was introduced last month that would reinstate the Citizenship Law.
Shaked's order was challenged in petitions filed in Jerusalem District Court by three Israeli human rights organizations: the Association for Civil Rights in Israel; Moked: The Center for the Defense of the Individual; and Physicians for Human Rights. Last week, the State Prosecutor's Office urged the court to dismiss the petitions on the grounds that the current legal situation is temporary and that Shaked has the authority to set policy on the matter at the moment.
She has ordered that, until the end of the year, family unification applications should be handled as they were before the law expired, the Prosecutor's Office noted, and that she is acting in accordance with the Shin Bet’s stance with regard to security risks. The Interior Ministry is also planning to develop an interim arrangement by next month to cope with the current legal situation, the Prosecutor's Office noted.
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In the interim,“there shouldn't be anything preventing the interior minister from exercising the broad discretion conferred upon her by law or to bar her from developing procedures and guidelines for an interim period ... based on the position of security officials," the State Prosecutor's Office said.
The Prosecutor's Office, which represents the Israeli government, asked the court for the opportunity to submit a formal opinion issued by the Shin Bet when the Citizenship Law expired – and which purportedly supports Shaked’s stance. The state asked to submit the opinion on an ex parte basis – meaning without giving the petitioners access to it.
“National security considerations require special caution in granting status in Israel to residents of the region." Shaked has the authority to make the decision and the interim policy is reasonable under the circumstances, the prosecutor said.
In April, prior to the expiration of the law, when Benjamin Netanyahu was still prime minister, the Shin Bet warned that permitting Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza or residents of enemy countries to become residents of Israel based on family unification would “present an increased and proven potential for risk compared to applicants for unification from other places.”
"The main threat presented by these populations stems both from their being convenient and accessible for recruitment by terrorist organizations and in light of the high potential inherent in their being lone-wolf terrorists," the Shin Bet warned at the time. There is risk inherent in fact that they identify with the Palestinians but also would have freedom of movement inside Israel, the security agency said.
For his part, however, Oded Feller, a lawyer for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said “the stance of the interior minister and the attorney general sets Israeli constitutional law back decades. Their position is that there’s no need for a specific law and that the decision of the Knesset not to extend the temporary order barring family unification has no significance because interior ministers have always had the discretion to act in this way,” Feller stated.
“This is a dangerous interpretation that shows contempt for the Knesset and permits the government to deliver a fatal blow to human rights even when it has no authority by law. We hope the court will make this clear to the government.”