Cabinet Revote Nixes Bill to Allow Jewish-only Communities

The cabinet voted Sunday against a bill proposed by MK Haim Druckman (National Religious Party) stipulating that Arab citizens of Israel will be barred from acquiring land in Jewish communities built on state property.

The cabinet voted by 22-2 to refer the bill, which proposed an amendment to the Israel Lands Law, to review by the Ne'eman Committee on constitutional affairs, effectively scuppering any chance of it becoming law.

The two voting against referring the bill were Druckman's National Religious Party colleagues, ministers Yitzhak Levi and Effi Eitam.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon also rejected a proposal by Levi to allow Druckman to bring his proposal to a third reading in the Knesset plenum this week. Sharon said that he was not willing to spend any more time on the bill until it had been reviewed by the Ne'eman Committee.

The prime minister backed the decision to send the bill for review, saying "it is not right to make this into a law if we are not certain that it is completely necessary."

He added that enacting the bill would have an impact on Arab-Jewish relations in Israel as well as inter-Jewish relations.

This is the second time the cabinet has discussed the bill. Defense Minister and Labor Party Chairman Benjamin Ben-Eliezer on Tuesday asked Cabinet Secretary Gideon Sa'ar to schedule the new debate. Labor's ministers were not present during last Sunday's debate in which the controversial bill was approved.

The debate on the bill began in July 2001, when the cabinet decided to support it in order to bypass a High Court of Justice ruling asserting that the state may not directly discriminate, on a religious or national basis, in the allocation of state land.

On December 2, 2001, the ministerial committee on legislation approved the cabinet's position and decided that the government would support Druckman's bill in its preliminary reading in the Knesset. The next day, cabinet minister Dan Meridor appealed the committee's decision and on December 24, the committee accepted the appeal.

Only three cabinet ministers took part in the meeting of the committee that addressed the appeal: the chairman, Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit (Likud), and ministers Dan Meridor (Center Party) and Matan Vilnai (Labor). Sheetrit was in the minority.

Six days later, Education Minister Limor Livnat (Likud) submitted an appeal to the full cabinet on the committee's ruling. The subject was not placed on the cabinet agenda until the Knesset presidium decided that, notwithstanding the bill's racist thrust, it could be submitted to the Knesset. The subject was then added to the cabinet agenda.