Israeli Ministers Advance Stricter Version of Controversial Citizenship Law

A ministerial committee votes to back a version of the controversial legislation in an effort to keep the door open for negotiations with the opposition

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
The Ministerial Committee in discussion on family reunification bill extension in June
The Ministerial Committee in discussion on family reunification bill extension in June Credit: נועם מושקוביץ / דו
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

A ministerial committee gave its approval on Sunday to a bill introduced by an opposition Knesset member that would bar Palestinians who are married to Israeli citizens from gaining residency in Israel. The bill is more restrictive than one proposed by Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, which the ministerial committee voted last week to back.

The bills are designed to replace similar controversial temporary legislation that expired in July after the Knesset failed to renew it. The new bill was introduced by lawmaker Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionism).

Although support for legislation by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation normally indicates the government’s support for legislation, it was thought doubtful that Shaked’s bill would pass the Knesset because two parties in the government coalition, Meretz and the United Arab List, opposed it. The committee’s backing for Rothman’s bill was an effort to leave an opening for negotiations on Shaked’s version from the ranks of the opposition.

Rothman’s stricter bill resembles the temporary legislation that had been renewed annually for many years banning Israeli residency for Palestinians from the territories who marry Israelis. The ministerial committee approved moving ahead on the bill despite opposition by Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) and Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai (Labor Party). Last week, Shai abstained from voting on Shaked’s similar bill.

In response to a High Court of Justice petition on the issue of family unification involving Palestinians married to Israelis, last month a lawyer representing the government told the court that Shaked would complete legislation within about a month.

Rothman’s bill differs in two ways from the expired temporary legislation. It requires periodic reports to the Knesset on the number of family reunification permits granted by the Interior Ministry. It also would impose quotas on the number of residency permits issued to Palestinians.

The explanatory notes to Rothman’s bill state that, due to High Court petitions filed in the past challenging the previous law, amendments were introduced that led to a “continuous growth in recent years of the percentage of requests granted each year.”

In 2019, 76 percent of requests for family unification to the Interior Ministry were granted, the notes state. “In light of this, it is being proposed that the law be reinstated as a temporary legislation [and that] quotas be set for residency permits and the granting of citizenship, to close the loopholes in the law ....”

According to Rothman, the demand for quotas is intended to preserve the status quo, “to deal with the situation in which for the first time in Israel’s history, there are individuals in the coalition who are interested in admitting Arab residents of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] into Israel in large numbers.” The explanatory notes also state that after Rothman’s bill becomes law, it should become an ordinary law and not a temporary legislation.

Shaked is opposed to the quota provision because she believes that any change to the prior law would make it more difficult to defend before the High Court.

In a letter on behalf of the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Rights in Israel, the organization’s director, Hassan Jabareen, said that passage of new temporary legislation would in practice constitute another extension of prior legislation and bypass High Court rulings that were based on the temporary nature of the legislation.

“This bill is even more extreme than its predecessors,” Jabareen wrote, and it demonstrates that its intent is “to prevent the granting of citizenship to Palestinians because they are Palestinians.”

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