Israel: Extension of Palestinian family reunification law

    The Knesset is expected to vote Monday evening on extending the Palestinian family reunification law, in one of the first major tests of the nascent government coalition.

    The law, which blocks the automatic granting of citizenship to Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens, expires on Tuesday. The government wants to extend the law by another year, as has occurred each year since since it first passed in 2003.

    The Meretz and Ra’am parties, along with some of Labor’s MKs, have said they will oppose extending the law. Likud, which backs the law in principle, has been considering voting against it largely to embarrass the government and attempt to bring down the coalition. Historically, right-wing lawmakers have argued that the legislation is necessary for Israeli security to prevent terrorist operators from abusing the law to gain Israeli citizenship. Left-wing lawmakers say the legislation is disproportionate and discriminatory, and aimed at demographic control, not security.

    Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked has said that the law will finally come up to a vote on Monday, after several delays, and that she believes it will pass with support from opposition parties.

    According to a Monday report by the Kan public broadcaster, Shaked has agreed to a compromise requested by Meretz and Ra’am to renew the law for six months, as opposed to a year. But the interior minister reportedly refused to consider granting citizenship to Palestinians already living in Israel.

    Some lawmakers from Likud and other opposition parties have indicated they would also support a compromise in the form of a six-month extension. Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu doubled down on Sunday on his demand of advancing a quasi-constitutional Basic Law on immigration to replace the Palestinian family reunification law.

    Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked arrives at a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on July 4, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

    Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin said that while he supports the new immigration legislation in theory, any change to Israel’s Basic Law “requires the agreement of every faction in the coalition, and I don’t know the position of the other parties.” Elkin said the government’s efforts are currently focused on securing votes from inside the coalition, not the opposition.

    “We are not begging anyone,” he told Army Radio. “The opposition will have to exercise their own judgment.”

    Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin arrives at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, for a group photo of the president and members of the new government, June 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

    Elkin, a member of the New Hope party, added that those who vote against the law — including members of his own coalition — are harming Israeli security.

    “It’s not possible to change the text of the law in this time period, and doing so would also face legal issues,” Elkin told Army Radio. “I believe that it will come to a vote as is, and whoever votes against it will take on their conscience a breach of Israel’s security.”

    Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi said it was important for the opposition to present a united front on the issue.

    “We will stand in the Knesset today in unison,” he told Army Radio. The Likud faction is expected to meet on Monday ahead of the vote and decide together how to vote on the legislation. “I will support whatever position is expected,” Hanegbi said. “And anyone who thinks differently from me should also do so.”

    Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi on September 17, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

    Yisrael Beytenu MK Alex Kushnir said Monday that he knows Likud MKs who are seriously debating which way they will vote on the law.

    “I hope they vote together with us,” he told Kan. “If they choose to endanger the citizens of Israel just for the sake of faction discipline, the public will take that into consideration.”

    Yesh Atid MK Ram Ben-Barak slammed those in Likud who are urging a vote against the law. “With all due respect to political games, they are supposed to vote against the government, not against the state,” Ben-Barak told Kan radio. “When we were in the opposition we never once voted against a law that helped residents of the State of Israel. They’re voting down [laws] in every field, and along the way voting against citizens.”

    Yesh Atid MK Ram Ben Barak attends a faction meeting at the Knesset on January 15, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

    Yamina MK Nir Orbach said that he believes the legislation will ultimately pass on Monday night.

    “In the past, considerations regarding the law have always been [geared toward] the best interests of the state and not in terms of coalition vs. opposition,” Orbach told Army Radio on Monday morning. “I assume that the Zionist parties will vote in favor as an issue of national responsibility.”

    Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern of Yesh Atid declared that the vote to extend the law would not bring down the government, and that it was “not the last obstacle we will face.” In a message to Likud lawmakers, Stern said: “If there are any MKs left there who care about the country, they shouldn’t have any dilemma at all,” he told Army Radio on Monday.

    Netanyahu on Sunday said he had offered to vote in favor of extending the 2003 reunification law for two months, until a Basic Law on immigration could be legislated, but the coalition had refused.

    “Bennett and Lapid aren’t capable of preserving the Jewish character of the State of Israel. Tomorrow, they will raise the reunification law for a Knesset vote, while Ra’am, Meretz, and a Labor MK oppose it,” said Netanyahu in a video posted on social media on Sunday. “They expect us to advance this law that is full of holes, not to resolve the issue facing the State of Israel and ensure its survival as a Jewish and democratic state, but rather to ensure the survival of their coalition.”

    Opposition leader and Likud party chief MK Benjamin Netanyahu leads a meeting at the Knesset on June 28, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

    A vote on extending the reunification law was postponed last Tuesday, when the coalition realized it had yet to secure a majority. With the coalition holding the narrowest possible one-seat majority in the Knesset, every vote can theoretically be torpedoed by just one lawmaker.

    Family reunification in Israel typically involves an Israeli citizen requesting citizenship for their non-Israeli spouse. Most unification applications are submitted by Arab Israelis on behalf of a Palestinian spouse living in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.

    The measure limiting family reunification was first passed in 2003 due to concerns that it was being abused by members of terror groups to gain access to Israel, making it harder for Palestinians to gain Israeli citizenship or residency through marriage.

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