Panel Eases Unification Process for Palestinian Spouses

The ministerial committee for legislation yesterday approved changes in the Citizenship Law that will allow dozens of mixed Israeli-Palestinian couples to continue or begin family unification procedures to acquire Israeli citizenship for the Palestinian partner.

The committee decision now allows the unification of families where the Palestinian man is over 35 or the Palestinian woman over 25, which is believed to include about 40 percent of the women and 20 percent of the men asking for unification, or approximately 30 percent of the families involved.

Palestinian children under the age of 16 who have one parent who married an Israeli may now obtain citizenship.

The version of the bill that won a majority was close to that of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who wished to comply with the minimal easements acceptable to the Shin Bet security services. Shin Bet statistics show that involvement in terror attacks declines with age. The security services, which at first opposed any change in the law, finally agreed to this proposal, as did the National Security Council.

The law freezing family unification procedures began as a cabinet decision in May 2002, after which the Interior Ministry stopped accepting new applications or processing those already filed. In July 2003, the Knesset transformed the decision into a law, in effect, for a limited period. Since that time, the House has extended the law twice, and it is due to expire at the end of May.

The law was passed to take effect for a limited time because Attorney General Menachem Mazuz believed that was the only way it would pass the scrutiny of the High Court of Justice, which otherwise could be expected to rule that it discriminated against citizens married to Palestinians.

Mazuz has stated that the law as it stood, preventing any family unification, could not be extended. Hence the cabinet decision to relax certain elements.

Interior Minister Ophir Pines-Paz had presented a different proposal to the committee, which would allow women over 20 to submit or advance their application for citizenship, which would encompass 80 percent of the female applicants and almost half the families. Pines-Paz's bureau said that according to the data available, no Palestinian woman who has became a citizen through family unification has been involved in terrorism.