Bennett Faces Hurdles in Attempts to Renew Palestinian Family Reunification Ban

Emergency regulation from 2003 allows Israel to refuse residency visas to Palestinians married to Israeli citizens; Meretz MK Friege says he will vote against renewing the measure

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
Demonstrations against the citizenship law, Tel Aviv, 2012.
Demonstrations against the citizenship law, Tel Aviv, 2012.Credit: Moti Milrod
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

The government is working towards renewing a temporary order that bans Palestinian citizens married to Israelis from living with them within Israeli territory. The process of renewing the controversial measure is advancing despite criticism from lawmakers and from the Knesset's legal consultants.

On Saturday, Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Freige of Meretz said that he will vote against renewing the order. In an interview with Kan Bet radio, he said that "Meretz has been voting against this law for 18 years, and went to the High Court of Justice against it. It's a law that must be amended so that all the sides are satisfied."

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He clarified that despite his opposition, "I will not vote against the government, but I will not vote in favor of the law."

In the interview, Freige said that the coalition parties are in talks in order to formulate a version of the law they all agree with. "The discussion has not yet finished, and I hope that we will come to a point of understanding that each side can accept," he said.

Freige added that the new government, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, must adopt different policies from its predecessor. "We didn't just replace the man (Netanyahu), but we need to look at what we can do," he said. "I think this law can be changed, and that all the coalition parties will be fine with that."

Fellow Meretz MK Mossi Raz tweeted on Thursday that he "opposes the intention to extend the citizenship law. This is a discriminatory law that places limitations on Arab citizens and casts them as a security and demographic threat." Despite Raz's statement, Meretz sources said that they intend to preserve coalition discipline on the matter.

The coalition understands that the United Arab List does not support renewing the law, and believes that the motion to renew it will pass with the help of votes from Likud and Religious Zionism.

Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Freige of Meretz.Credit: אמיל סלמן

On Wednesday, though, it became clear that the opposition parties intend to oppose renewing the law, and the coalition decided to freeze the discussion on the matter that was supposed to be held that day in the Knesset Arrangements Committee. Likud MK Miki Zohar said that his party will support the move in exchange for approving legislation to recognize illegally built West Bank outposts.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz requested Thursday that opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu ensure that the vote will pass. "This is a necessary law to preserve national security and the Jewish and democratic nature of the state," he wrote. "I expect that the coalition will act responsibly as well to pass the bill."

The Likud party responded: "Someone who holds the security of Israel dear to him does not establish a government with the United Arab List. Someone who holds the security of Israel dear to him does something, and leaves this government immediately."

After the party released its formal statement, a Likud official added that "In a reckless move, Bennett placed (United Arab List chairman) Mansour Abbas at the head of the Interior Committee, which is supposed to pass the law banning broad Palestinian immigration into Israel, and now he has the nerve to ask the opposition to save him and pass the law in a different committee. What does he want from us? He should fire Abbas and pass the law."

Before the formation of the current government, when Netanyahu had the mandate to build a coalition, he too tried to convince the United Arab List to join them.

The order was legislated as a temporary amendment to the Law on Citizenship and Entry into Israel in 2003. Since then, it has been renewed on an annual basis, and is set to lapse at the beginning of next year. The coalition has said that it is examining legal and parliamentary alternatives that will serve its many parties.

It plans to pass the law to the temporary Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, rather than to the joint Foreign Affairs and Defense and Interior Committee as it has in the past, as the latter has yet to be formed.

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