Lacking a Majority, Israel Delays Vote on Palestinian Family Reunification Ban

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Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and United Arab List chairman Mansour Abbas in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, last week.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and United Arab List chairman Mansour Abbas in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, last week. Credit: Emil Salman

The heads of the parties from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's coalition decided Sunday to postpone the vote on extending a controversial family reunification order until they reach an agreement that ensures a necessary majority, in what has become a major early test for the patchwork government.

The provision to the Citizenship and Entry Law, a 2003 emergency security regulation extended annually by the Knesset, blocks family unification between Israeli citizens and Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza Strip.

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Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked had planned to bring the extension to a vote on Monday, but it became clear that without all the coalition parties coming to an agreement on the issue, it couldn’t be passed without backing from the opposition, whose members have declared they wouldn’t support it.

On Sunday morning, coalition leaders discussed advancing the extension, with United Arab List chairman Mansour Abbas expressing opposition to the move. Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz also made it clear that his party opposes extending the temporary order. He didn’t say that all members of his faction would vote against it, but Minister Issawi Frej and MK Mossi Raz, along with Labor MK Ibtisam Mara’ana said they would oppose it.

“This is a law that can be amended so that all parties are satisfied,” said Frej. Mara’ana also suggested making changes to it, among them granting citizenship to the 2,000 Palestinians who had applied for reunification before the temporary ban was passed in 2003.

Naftali Bennett and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid are seeking to phrase the order in such a way that will allow it to move forward. The ministerial liaison to the Knesset, Housing Minister Zeev Elkin, will discuss the issue with faction representatives in the coming days. The temporary order expires on July 6.

The temporary provision to the Citizenship and Entry Law was passed during the second intifada and since then has been renewed every year. The coalition had planned to put the sensitive bill through the provisional Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and not through a joint panel that included the Interior and Environment Committee -- which had been done in the past -- since the latter has not yet been established. The bill to extend the order was first advanced by the previous government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, whose fellow Likud members are now declaring they will vote against it, despite their ideological alignments.

If the temporary order expires, it will have little practical significance, since Shaked can still reject Palestinian requests to be naturalized following their marriage to Israeli citizens. Still, not extending the law would embarrass Bennett, Shaked, and the right-wing flank of the coalition and lead to condemnations by the opposition.

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