Israel Legalizes 4,000 Palestinians' Residency in West Bank

Israel agrees to legalize the status of unregistered Palestinians in the West Bank following understandings between Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf
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Palestinians without legal status demonstrating in Ramallah in July. The sign in Hebrew in the foreground reads: 'We have the right to receive an ID card.'
Palestinians without legal status demonstrating in Ramallah in July. The sign in Hebrew in the foreground reads: 'We have the right to receive an ID card.'Credit: Emil Salman
הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf

Israel agreed on Tuesday to legalize the status of 1,200 unregistered Palestinians living in the West Bank. The new approvals are the first of their kind in more than a decade.

Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Ghasan Alyan, also announced that Israel had approved changes of address for 2,800 Palestinians who were born in the Gaza Strip and moved to the West Bank prior to 2007.

Under the Oslo Accords of the 1990s, Israel retains responsibility for the population registry. In order to arrange their status, the Palestinian Authority must receive approval from Israel.

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The approvals represent the first in a number of steps that Defense Minister Benny Gantz agreed to at a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah two months ago. Army sources said that the new approvals were granted on humanitarian grounds.

The changes to the population registry involve Palestinians who fled Gaza after Hamas took over control of the territory in 2007, individuals who married Palestinians (and their children) as well as agricultural workers whose names had not appeared in the registry, an Israeli defense source explained. The defense establishment was supportive of the move, the source added, because it would make it easier for Israeli security forces to monitor their presence if necessary.

The Oslo Accords required Israel to approve residency rights in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for about 4,000 Palestinian couples per year for purposes of what was considered "family unification." But Israel unilaterally halted the process following the outbreak of Palestinian violence in October 2000 in the second intifada.

The last time that similar changes were made to the Palestinian population registry was in 2008 and 2009 following a public campaign by affected Palestinian families and court petitions filed by the Hamoked Center for the Defense of the Individual. During that period, Israel settled the status and permitted family unification for about 32,000 families in what was described as "a diplomatic gesture to Mahmoud Abbas."

Since then, with rare exceptions, the process had been halted, until now.

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