The law, which has been renewed every year since 2003, presents a massive ideological issue to the sitting coalition, which is why it might expire on Tuesday.
https://www.jpost.com-By JEREMY SHARON
Knesset Arrangements Committee is seen voting down passing the Citizenship Law to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, on July 5, 2021.(photo credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ/KNESSET)
The Citizenship Law, or to give it its full name, the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, has exploded into the political life of the country over the last few weeks. But the impact and implications of the measure – and its looming expiration – are not widely known.
The law was originally passed as a temporary measure in 2003 during the height of the Second Intifada and has been renewed every year since.
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But it is also a component of the country’s ongoing struggle to deal with the reality of the close connection between Arab-Israelis and Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem and their brethren in the West Bank.
The extreme ideological divergence of the current coalition has meant that renewing the law has become a severe political headache for the new government, and its failure to do so would mean that the law will expire on Tuesday, causing severe embarrassment to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and the majority of his coalition.
The original 2003 law was passed largely on security grounds during the violence perpetrated by Palestinian terrorists during the Second Intifada.
It stated that no resident of the West Bank or Gaza Strip be granted Israeli citizenship or residency, a stipulation that includes spouses of Israeli citizens, which in effect applies to Palestinian spouses of Arab-Israelis or Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem.
In general, if an Israeli citizen marries a foreign citizen, the foreign spouse immediately obtains a temporary residency visa, after which a path is open to naturalization and citizenship.
The law was later amended in 2007 to include citizens from Iraq, Iran, Syria and Lebanon, then and still defined as enemy states.
Another amendment provides for such spouses to obtain “stay permits” from the Interior Ministry, a status that must be renewed every year but precludes a path to citizenship.
Only men over the age of 35 and women over the age of 25 are eligible for such permits, however.
Although Palestinians marrying Arab-Israelis had faced difficulty gaining Israeli residency and citizenship since the 1990s, when the law was passed in 2003, it also had a national-security rationale, given the dire situation at a time when Palestinians terrorists were killing dozens of Israelis in suicide bombings and other attacks.
The law blocked a path for would-be terrorists to gain entry into Israel through abusing the naturalization process by marrying an Israeli.
There are currently 9,200 individuals in Israel with stay permits obtained after marrying an Arab-Israeli under the terms of the Citizenship Law and another 3,500 who have temporary-resident visas.
Approximately 1,000 requests for stay permits are received every year, some of which are rejected and others approved, according to the Interior Ministry.
An assessment presented to senior government officials a month ago by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) asserted that failure to renew the law would harm Israel’s security interests, Bennett said Monday at a Yamina faction meeting.
The majority of terrorist attacks that have been carried out by Arab-Israelis have been committed either by individuals who obtained some form of status in Israel through family reunification under the Citizenship Law or their offspring, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said at the same meeting.
Since 2001, some 155 individuals involved in terrorist activities obtained entry to Israel under family reunification laws, the Shin Bet said in 2018.
But the law has also been justified to preserve Israel’s Jewish majority, something emphasized not only by those on the Right, but also by those in the Center.
The law “is one of the tools designed to ensure the Jewish majority of the State of Israel,” Alternative Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Monday, adding that “Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and our goal is that it should have a Jewish majority.”
The Citizenship Law was crucial for preserving Israel’s “Jewish and democratic character,” Blue and White leader and Defense Minister Benny Gantz said several weeks ago.
Shaked, referencing Lapid’s comments with approval, also said the law helps Israel preserve its Jewish majority and is necessary for “demographic reasons.”
The law is opposed by two of the coalition’s parties, left-wing Meretz and Ra’am (United Arab List), which describe the law as racist since, according to Lapid, Gantz and Shaked, it is designed to keep out Palestinian spouses while foreign-national spouses from most other nations can get citizenship by marrying an Israeli.
Meretz and Ra’am also cite humanitarian suffering caused by the law, which divides married couples and sometimes children from their parents.
Those who obtain stay permits also have to navigate a labyrinthine bureaucracy through the Interior Ministry every time they need to renew their permit, with no guarantee that it will be approved.
Although opposition parties Likud, United Torah Judaism, Shas and MKs from the Religious Zionist Party all repeatedly voted to extend the law when in power, they have refused to support its further extension under the new coalition as a way to embarrass the government.
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said Bennett was to blame for the inability to extend the law once again since he formed a government with “anti-Zionist elements.”
Instead, the opposition has proposed a Basic Law for immigration that would serve as a permanent measure preventing Palestinians and citizens from enemy states from obtaining citizenship.
Any conflict between other Basic Laws, such as the Basic Law for Human Dignity and Freedom, would be overridden by the Basic Law on immigration.
If the coalition passes this law in a preliminary vote with a view to passing it into law within two months, the opposition would support the extension of the current, temporary Citizenship Law for that two-month period, Netanyahu said.
The coalition has naturally balked at this proposal since it is even more draconian and far-reaching than the current temporary measure and is even more unpalatable to Ra’am and Meretz.