Housing minister said to offer deputy ministership to Islamist Ra’am

Ze’ev Elkin, Mansour Abbas both confirm report but deny it is connected to coalition’s efforts to win Arab party’s backing for extending ‘family reunification law’

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)
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)

Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin has offered the Islamist Ra’am party a position of deputy minister in his office, Israeli television reported Wednesday.

MK Mansour Abbas’s party is considering the offer, according to Channel 12 news, which described the offer as particularly enticing to Ra’am in light of its desire to influence government decisions on housing, particularly in the Negev desert.

Both Elkin — a member of the right-wing New Hope party — and Ra’am confirmed the offer to the network, but denied it was related to the coalition’s efforts to win the Arab party’s support for the so-called “family reunification” law, which prevents Palestinians who marry Israelis from automatically receiving citizenship.

The report said a point of hesitancy for Ra’am was that by accepting the offer, the party would become part of the government and thus responsible for government policies. Ra’am is part of the coalition and voted to back the new government’s formation, but none of the party’s lawmakers are ministers or deputy ministers.

Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party lashed out at Prime Minister Naftali Bennett over the report.

“Why does the prime minister, in fact, Mansour Abbas, need another position of deputy minister? Bennett continues his fire sale of the country to continue to serve as a prime minister with six [Knesset] seats,” Likud said in a statement.

The longtime former premier and his allies have regularly railed at Bennett for relying on Ra’am’s support to swear in the power-sharing government he formed with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, though Likud made its own efforts to woo the Islamist party after general elections in March.

Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas at the Knesset on June 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Meanwhile, the Walla news site reported Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked of Bennett’s Yamina party met with Abbas on Wednesday as the coalition struggles to put together a majority to extend the reunification law.

The report said coalition officials asked if opposition lawmakers in United Torah Judaism would abstain during a vote on the measure, but the ultra-Orthodox party rejected the proposal out of hand.

On Tuesday, a Ra’am MK said the party would vote against extending the law if it comes up for a plenum vote. Several MKs from the left-wing Meretz and Labor parties have also said they oppose the extension, depriving the coalition of a majority to approve it. Most lawmakers in the opposition also back the legislation in principle, but many have indicated that they will nevertheless vote against it to undermine and embarrass the new coalition.

The battle over extending the Palestinian family reunification law is testing the new coalition composed of right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties and Ra’am. The vote on extending the 2003 law was pulled Sunday from the agenda for the next day, with the coalition apparently unable to muster a majority to pass the measure.

Palestinians and supporters demonstrating in front of then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, against the law limiting Israeli-Palestinian family reunification on April 14, 2013. (Sliman Khader/FLASH90)

The coalition has accused Netanyahu and his allies of “playing with the country’s security” by “putting political considerations before the security interest of the citizens of the State of Israel.”

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 the 2003 measure, passed due to concerns that it was being abused by members of 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.

The current legislation expires July 6.

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