Knesset Okays First Reading of Bill to Extend Citizenship Law

The Knesset yesterday approved the first reading of a government proposal to extend a temporary amendment to the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law by two years, until the end of 2008. The amendment limits family unifications between Israeli citizens or residents and residents of the Palestinian Authority.

The proposal would also expand the amendment to cover several "risk states," presumably mainly Arab and Muslim countries. It passed with 46 votes in favor from rightist and centrist parties, with nine MKs from Meretz and the Arab parties voting against.

The government is seeking the extension despite the harsh criticism leveled at the law by the High Court of Justice. Meretz has already informed Attorney General Menachem Mazuz that it intends to petition the High Court again if the extension is passed.

The government rushed to bring the bill to a vote because the current amendment expires on January 16, 2007, and must therefore be either extended or replaced before that date.

Under this bill, Israel would have the right to reject an applicant for family unification even if he otherwise meets all the criteria, "if, in the applicant's country of residence, or within the vicinity of his residence, activities liable to endanger the security of the State of Israel or its citizens take place." That would ostensibly gives Israel the right to reject any resident of the PA, as well as residents of almost any Arab country.

On May 2, 2002, the cabinet decided for the first time to freeze all family unification proceedings between Israeli citizens or residents and residents of the PA, due to the "increasing involvement" in terror by residents of the PA who carried "Israeli identification cards as a result of family unification, and exploited their status in Israel to engage in terrorist activity," as the cabinet decision said.

In mid-2003, the Knesset enacted this decision as a temporary order, which has since been extended three times. However, in mid-2005, certain provisions were relaxed, to enable family unifications in cases where the husband is at least 35 and the wife at least 25 years old.

On May 14 this year, an 11-justice panel of the High Court approved the temporary order by a vote of six to five. Former chief justice Aharon Barak, siding with the minority, argued that "the appropriate goal of increasing security does not justify severe harm to many thousands of Israeli citizens."

However, Interior Ministry legal adviser Yehuda Zameret claimed that the new bill is in keeping with the High Court ruling, since it makes provisions for exceptional humanitarian cases - something that the court had criticized the original temporary order as lacking.