Israel vetoes a measure prohibiting Palestinian spouses from entering the country.
Israel’s parliament failed to renew a rule prohibiting Arab citizens from extending citizenship or residency rights to spouses from the occupied West Bank and Gaza early Tuesday, in a close vote that cast doubt on the country’s new coalition government’s survival.
The 59-59 decision, which came following an all-night Knesset session, was a significant blow for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
The new Israeli leader, who had intended to broker a deal between his hard-line Yamina party and the more moderate factions in his heterogeneous coalition, instead suffered a humiliating setback in a vote he reportedly characterized as a referendum on the new administration. The vote means that the law will now expire at 12 a.m. on Tuesday.
The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law was implemented as a temporary remedy in 2003, during the height of the second intifada, or uprising, during which Palestinians carried out a wave of violent attacks inside Israel. Proponents argued that Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza were vulnerable to armed group recruitment and that security screening alone was insufficient.
Arab citizens, who make about a fifth of Israel’s population, have had little, if any, opportunities to bring spouses from the West Bank and Gaza into Israel under it. Critics, including many left-wing and Arab politicians, argue that it is a discriminatory measure aimed at limiting Israel’s Arab minority’s expansion, while supporters argue that it is necessary for security and the preservation of Israel’s Jewish character.
The law has been renewed on an annual basis and seems to enjoy broad support in parliament, which is dominated by hard-line nationalist parties. However, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party and allies chose to oppose it in order to humiliate Bennett and weaken his coalition, which includes a minor Arab party.
“With due regard for this law, the significance of deposing the government is greater,” Netanyahu stated Monday. “This is not merely a law. It is a bill that reveals the flaws in this government, which exists solely to further an anti-Zionist agenda.”
Bennett suggested a compromise with the coalition’s liberal members that would have extended the law by six months while also providing residency rights to approximately 1,600 Arab families, a sliver of those impacted. However, the measure was defeated, in part because two Arab coalition members abstained. The vote showed the new government’s severe divides and vulnerability.
However, the judgment provided some optimism to Arab families who have been impacted by the law. The law has created a slew of complications for thousands of Palestinian families who live on either side of the war-drawn and largely invisible frontiers separating Israel from east Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, territories Israel seized in the 1967 war and which the Palestinians seek for a future state.
“You want your security, that is fine; you can check each case independently,” said Taiseer Khatib, an Israeli Arab citizen whose wife of over 15 years, from the West Bank city of Jenin, must apply for licenses to live in Israel with him and their three children on a regular basis.
“There is no reason for this collective punishment simply because you are Palestinian,” he stated Monday, prior of the vote, during a rally outside the Knesset.
Even after the revolt ended in 2005 and the frequency of attacks decreased, the law was repeatedly renewed. Israel now regularly admits over 100,000 Palestinian workers from the West Bank.
Male spouses over the age of 35 and female spouses over the age of 25, as well as some humanitarian circumstances, are eligible to apply for the equivalent of a tourist visa, which must be renewed on a regular basis. Such permit holders are ineligible for driver’s licenses, public health insurance, and the majority of jobs. Since the violent Hamas organization assumed power in Gaza in 2007, Palestinian spouses from Gaza have been absolutely forbidden.
The law does not apply to the approximately 500,000 Jewish settlers who live in the West Bank and are citizens of Israel. Jews who come to Israel from anywhere in the world are eligible for citizenship under Israel’s Law of Return.
Israel’s Arab minority is inextricably linked to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and mainly supports their cause. Arab inhabitants perceive the law as one of various forms of discrimination they experience in a country that declares itself legally as a Jewish nation-state.
Palestinians who are unable to obtain permits yet attempt to remain in Israel with their spouses face expulsion. Couples who relocate to the West Bank do so under the military occupation of Israel.
Jewish Israelis who marry Palestinians from the territories are also covered by the citizenship rules, but such unions are extremely unusual.