Family Unification Bill Meant to Stop Palestinian 'Creeping Right of Return,' Israel's Shaked Says

While officially, the amendment to the Citizenship Law restrictions is based on security concerns, senior officials admit it is a tool aimed at ensuring a Jewish majority in Israel

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Ayelet shaked at the Knesset, on Tuesday.
Ayelet shaked at the Knesset, on Tuesday.Credit: Alex Kolomoisky

Israel's interior minister said that the proposed amendment to the Citizenship Law, which would limit the automatic granting of residency in Israel to Palestinians married to Israelis, also has demographic reasons.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said in an interview published on Wednesday in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper that “we don’t need to mince words, the law also has demographic reasons, referring to the Palestinian family unification ban, approved by the Knesset in a first of three votes on Monday.

“The law wants to reduce the motivation for immigration to Israel. Primarily for security reasons, and then also for demographic reasons.” It is meant to prevent a “creeping right of return,” Shaked told Yedioth.

Officially, the government says that the restrictions in the proposed Citizenship Law stem from security reasons, and they are intended to prevent the involvement in terrorism of Palestinians who gain residency under the law.

But senior Israeli officials also admit in public from time to time that demographic considerations also exist. For example, in July, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said: “We shouldn’t hide the essence of the Citizenship Law. It’s one of the tools aimed at ensuring a Jewish majority in the State of Israel.”

On Monday, the Knesset passed the amendment to the Citizenship Law in its first of three votes, with 44 lawmakers voting in favor of Shaked’s version of the law and five against.

The more right-wing parties in the ruling coalition and opposition had originally planned to cooperate and support the bill sponsored by Religious Zionism's MK Simcha Rothman, but at the last minute MK Ahmad Tibi of the Joint List requested to turn the vote on the bill into a no confidence motion in the government, leading coalition members to skip the vote.

The previous law, which was enacted as an emergency order in 2003 and was extended every year for one more year, expired in July. Meretz announced it would support the law if the commitments made to the party on the matter a few months ago – when the bill was brought for a vote in the Knesset and did not pass, will be met.

These promises included an individual examination of all requests under the law, and granting residency status to Palestinians who have lived in Israel for a long time.

Even though the previous law had expired in July, after the new government was unable to muster a majority for extending it in the Knesset, Shaked instructed the Population, Immigration and Border Authority in the Interior Ministry to continue to operate according to the old family reunification rules.

The Supreme Court harshly criticized this policy and ordered the ministry to act according to the present law. The government informed the Supreme Court that Shaked planned on passing a new Citizenship Law by the end of January, but she has not yet accomplished this.

Last week, the Population and Immigration Authority issued a temporary regulation for handling the requests for family reunification from Palestinians, according to which it would begin examining the requests from those people 50 and older who had received a residency permit during the last five years.

The authority said that this age group was chosen because it reflects the least security risk. According to the new regulations, all the requests from people in these groups would be examined and the residency status of those found to meet the new rules would be upgraded to the status of permanent resident.

The examination will include checking all the relevant documents, an examination of information from the security services and in the end an interview for the couple. The new rules will be in effect for only a short period of time – until the end of the Knesset’s winter session, or until the law is amended.

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