Once every few months, the Israeli defense establishment publicly voices its fears about the deteriorating status of the Palestinian Authority and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas. Yet Israel ignores the fact that this decline is directly connected to its own failure to fulfill its obligations under the Oslo Accords. One of these is to approve “family reunification” for thousands of first-degree relatives of residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip each year.
The interim agreements left Israel with the exclusive power to grant Palestinian residency: The Palestinian Authority merely issues the Palestinian IDs. One large category of people who were supposed to receive legal residency under these agreements consists of people who were displaced in 1967 – that is, people who were born and raised in the territories, but whom Israel stripped of their residency rights on various pretexts. A second category consists primarily of spouses, but also includes residents’ children.
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And sometimes these two categories overlap – someone who was stripped of residency rights might also have a first-degree relative who carries a legal Palestinian ID. Negotiations over how to implement the first category broke down in the 1990s. And following the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000, Israel also froze family reunifications.
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For the past seven months, a grassroots organization called Family Reunification – My Right has demanded an end to this absurd situation, in which thousands of people live as “illegal residents” in their own homes. The activists are mainly Jordanian Palestinians, but some also come from other Arab countries. There is also a group of women from Western countries who have married Palestinians and are living in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. In some ways, their situation is better, since they are living in their own homes on tourist visas. But even that arrangement is temporary; Israel has more than once refused to renew these visas.
Palestinians have a right to a family life and a right to live with their families in the places where they were born – the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. And Israel has an obligation to uphold this right. With or without any connection to the defense establishment’s concerns that the Palestinian Authority might collapse, there is now an opportunity for the non-rightist parties in the governing coalition to embrace this human issue. The government must immediately restart the family reunification process and quickly clear the entire backlog of applications.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.