Defense Minister Benny Gantz publicly urged opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday to back the extension of a law barring citizenship for Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens. Gantz said the opposition’s plans to torpedo the extension will harm Israeli security.
Gantz’s entreaty to the Likud leader and former prime minister came a day after a vote on extending the law was pulled over lack of support within the coalition. Though right-wing opposition parties in principle back extending the law, they have refused to step in to do so in the hopes of embarrassing the new government.
Gantz urged Netanyahu to put national security ahead of any attempts to score political points.
“This law is essential for safeguarding the country’s security and Jewish and democratic character, and security considerations need to be put before all political considerations,” Gantz said in a statement. “Even in difficult times politically, we put Israel before everything.”
Meanwhile there were reports Thursday of a brewing compromise deal within the coalition, that could see the extension move ahead even without opposition backing.
On Wednesday, coalition chairman Idit Silman (Yamina) was forced to pull the measure from the Knesset Arrangements Committee agenda upon realizing that she did not have enough votes for it to pass without the backing of coalition party Ra’am. The Islamist faction opposes the law and has refused to vote for its passage.
Gantz deployed deputy coalition whip Eitan Ginsburg from his Blue and White party to help Silman rally the support of “all Zionist components” to ensure a Knesset majority for extending the law.
He also called on Ra’am to back off its opposition, saying that he “expects all coalition parties to act responsibly in passing the bill,” the statement read.
According to reports in Hebrew media, Ra’am may pull its opposition to the bill if changes are made to the law.
The party may vote in favor if given a promise from the coalition to immediately hold marathon talks in the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee on drafting a new version of the measure, according to Channel 12 news.
Family reunification in Israel typically involves an Israeli citizen requesting citizenship for his or her 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.
But a 2003 measure, passed due to concerns it was being abused by terror groups to gain access to Israel, put limits on the process, making it harder for Palestinians to gain Israeli citizenship or residency through marriage. The controversial law has been extended every year since, usually with strong backing from Likud and other right-wing parties.
Critics call the law racist and say it is an attempt by Israel to keep the number of Arab citizens down.
Responding to Gantz, Likud said in a tweet that “those for whom Israel’s security is important would not form a government with Ra’am.”
A statement from an unnamed Likud source, sent out by the party’s spokesperson, called Bennett’s decision to put Ra’am party head Mansour Abbas at the head of the Knesset committee meant to push the bill forward “irresponsible.”
“Now he has the chutzpah to ask the opposition to save him and move the law to another committee. What does he want from us — he should fire Abbas and pass the law,” the source said. Such a move would likely precipitate a coalition crisis.
Several opposition MKs admitted that they supported the law, but said this was trumped by their desire to harm the current coalition.
MK Uriel Busso, from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, told Army Radio that he was unimpressed by Gantz’s request for help.
“This is the first example for Israel showing that this is a leftist government that can’t hold it together for a week. We’re not going to mess around with band-aids for the government,” he said.
“The law is good, it safeguards the State of Israel and its character, but there are political considerations. We want to topple the government,” Likud MK Yoav Kisch told Kan public radio.
Channel 12 news reported that Likud MK Yuval Steinitz is pushing for Likud to back off its opposition, believing that the party will inflict more damage upon itself through its resistance than on the coalition.
On Wednesday, Likud MK Miki Zohar told coalition representatives that his party was prepared to support the law if the government backs his legislation to legalize dozens of wildcat outposts in the West Bank. The majority of parties in the unity government oppose such measures expanding Israeli presence beyond the Green Line.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina) pledged Wednesday to move forward with the legislation, saying it would be brought for a vote next week.
“I do not imagine that the opposition will harm the security of the country in the name of political games,” she tweeted. “I have no doubt that the head of the opposition will keep his word that on matters of Israeli security ‘there is no opposition and no coalition. On these matters, we are all a united front.'”