You Win Some Residents, You Lose Some Residents

The Citizenship Law strictly limits family unification between Israelis and Palestinians. However, Interior Ministry data indicates that in practice, under the auspices of the law, in addition to Palestinians' not receiving new residency permits for family unification, 561 families have lost the permits they had. This has a major significance: the lives of thousands of people are ruined.

The government decision to freeze family unification with Palestinians, which later became the Citizenship Law, was made in May 2002. Interior Ministry data shows that from 2002 to 2006, the residency permits of an average 110 families were canceled annually. But this average is misleading: In practice, around 100 permits were canceled each year, and in 2006 there was a 50-percent surge, to 150 canceled permits.

In August 2005, some easements were introduced to the Citizenship Law and it was determined that men over the age of 25 and women over 35 could qualify for family unification. At a Knesset Interior Committee meeting about a month ago, the Interior Ministry representative reported that the requests of 707 families have been accepted since the easements took effect. Now it turns out that in practice, there was hardly an increase at all. For nearly every family that received a permit, there was a family that lost its permit. The Interior Ministry said in response that the reasons for not extending a permit are an end to the relationship, involvement in criminal activity or security concerns.

Less citizenship cancelations

One of the draconian bodies operating in Israel is the Committee to Cancel Citizenship, which considers the cases of people suspected of immigrating to Israeli fraudulently. Sometimes the discussion takes place years after the person settled in Israel and built his life here. It is hard to understand why a fateful punishment like cancelation of one's citizenship, which is much worse than a few years in jail, is determined by a committee whose status is not anchored in the law or by a court. Usually a decision on the cancelation of citizenship is made without the affected person being present and without any legal representation for them.

But it seems that the waning in immigration is having a positive effect on the Committee for the Cancelation of Citizenship, by substantially reducing its workload. Only 31 cases were forwarded to the committee in 2006, and only 14 people had their citizenship canceled. For the sake of comparison, in 2002 the citizenship of 170 people was canceled, in 2003 there were 55 such cases, and in 2005 there were 38. In other words, the 2006 figure is 92 percent lower than that of 2002, and about two thirds (66 percent) lower than that of 2005. The current committee chairman, Attorney Zvi Inbar, instituted several important changes in the committee's work with the objective of reducing the arbitrariness of canceling the citizenship of people who have lived here for years. The result: in four of 14 cases, an alternate status was granted, enabling the individual whose citizenship was canceled to remain in Israel, albeit not as a citizen; and five cases presented to the committee were sent back for additional clarification. Twelve requests have yet to be discussed.

Just one initiative

Last Wednesday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert presented a periodic review to the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. He explained why he had a more favorable attitude to the Saudi initiative than to the Arab initiative: "The Arab initiative refers to the refugee problem with the words 'a just solution to the problem.' I cannot agree to what may be the implication of the words 'a just solution to the problem.'"

The next day Jordan's King Abdullah met with a delegation of Knesset members. He used the meeting to call on the government and people of Israel not to miss the opportunity presented by the Arab initiative. He stressed that the initiative only embodied "points for discussion" and that Israel will have the right to veto everything. He did say that consideration should be given to solving the refugee problem by means of compensation.

The same day I asked a spokesman for the royal family if the king was asking Israel to adopt the Saudi initiative or the Arab initiative. He tried to grasp the difference. I told him that if I understood the Israeli position correctly, the difference lies in how they relate to the right of return. He said that Saudi Arabia backs the Arab position and asked how there could be two Saudi positions. I told him about Olmert's remarks. "You'll have to ask Olmert," he said, "as far as we're concerned, there's only one initiative." Incidentally, Jordan, alongside Egypt, was chosen by the Arab League to manage contacts with Israel to promote the Arab initiative.

Respect for the interrogated

On Sunday, the Knesset's House Committee extended President Moshe Katsav's temporary incapacitation by 80 days. The chairman of the Meretz faction, Zahava Gal-On, opposed the extension. She based her argument, among other things, on the fact that the incapacitation did not manage to prevent Katsav from being questioned at the President's Residence.

An interesting discussion developed with regard to this argument. The Knesset's legal adviser, Attorney Nurit Elstein, said that certainly on the public level "it was inappropriate" for Katsav to be questioned in the President's Residence during the period of temporary incapacity. According to her, "From the moment the president left the President's Residence, he left it in every sense." She noted that the attorney general approved the questioning of the president at the President's Residence but said that "this is certainly disturbing."

Coalition Chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki of the Kadima faction said: "Disturbing isn't the right word." Elstein answered: "There's a problem finding the right word," and made another attempt: "The matter raises a problem."

Yitzhaki said cynically: "It's a great privilege to be questioned there," in other words, questioning is still questioning regardless of where it takes place. He said he was basing himself on his experience as the object of questioning.

The Labor faction chairman, Yoram Marciano, said: "As the object of questioning, I say that it's better to be questioned in the President's Residence. The drinks there are better."

The anonymous candidate

It seems that no-confidence motions have become a joke. The Knesset votes on no-confidence motions on average once every one-and-a-quarter days of sessions, and the average differential is 38 votes.

A no-confidence motion requires presenting a candidate for prime minister. MK Ibrahim Sarsur, the head of the United Arab List-Ta'al, has been a candidate for prime minister no less than six times.

All the members of the United Arab List-Balad were candidates for prime minister at least once. The former Knesset Finance Committee chairman, Yaakov Litzman of United Torah Judaism, was a candidate eight times.

A measure of how seriously the Knesset takes these candidacies can be seen in the fact that no one bothered to read out the name of the candidate in the plenum and the name does not even appear in the protocol, only on the agenda.

Therefore, the Knesset also cannot supply a computerized list of the candidates for prime minister in the no-confidence motions. If the day comes when a no-confidence motion passes, it will be interesting to find out whether it would be possible to appeal to the High Court of Justice against the vote, arguing that the MKs did not even know who they were voting for.