Lacking a majority, vote to extend Palestinian family reunification ban delayed

Government unable to ensure it can pass law in current form, working to find compromise acceptable to coalition parties; Shaked aiming for vote later this week

Interior Minister, Ayelet Shaked at a ceremony at the Interior Ministry in Jerusalem on June 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Interior Minister, Ayelet Shaked at a ceremony at the Interior Ministry in Jerusalem on June 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A bill to extend the law blocking the automatic granting of citizenship to Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens was pulled Sunday from its scheduled vote for the next day, with the government apparently unable to muster a majority to pass the measure, even though most MKs principally back the legislation.

The new government is internally divided over the issue, with Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Frej of Meretz, fellow party member Mossi Raz, Labor’s Ibtisam Mara’ana and the Arab Ra’am party opposing the measure as it currently stands and calling for changes to be made.

For the new government, which has a razor-thin majority over the opposition in the Knesset, opposition by even a single MK from the coalition could be enough to stop the bill.

That means that the government is dependent on right-wing opposition parties to help bass the bill. While those parties back the law in principle, they have refused to step in to back it in the hopes of embarrassing the new government.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked is to hold consultations Monday in the hope of bringing the so-called family reunification law for a vote on Wednesday, the Ynet website reported.

“Although the family reunification law will not be put to the vote tomorrow, even at this time the unity government continues to work in order to reach understandings and agreements,” said a statement on behalf of the coalition.

Meanwhile, Haaretz reported that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid were hoping to come up with a compromise that would be acceptable to all members of the coalition.

“This is a law that can be fixed so that all sides will be happy,” said Frej.

The coalition accused opposition leader Benjamin 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.”

The development came after the new ruling coalition was forced to cancel a committee vote on the bill last week when it realized it did not have the necessary majority.

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.

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)

But the 2003 measure, passed due to concerns 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 measure expires July 6.

Critics call the law racist and say it is an attempt by Israel to keep the number of Arab citizens down. Proponents say without the law, tens of thousands of Palestinians could submit requests to become Israeli citizens every year.

According to Channel 13 news, there is a debate within Likud on whether to support the law if it’s brought to a vote this week, with Netanyahu and Likud’s MK Tzachi Hanegbi opposing taking any steps that would bail out the coalition. Others, including MK Ofir Akunis, said they would support it, while MK Miki Zohar said 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.

Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site, reported Sunday that Netanyahu has instructed Likud to vote against the bill.

Last week, Defense Minister Benny Gantz publicly urged Netanyahu to back the extension of the law. Gantz said the opposition’s plans to torpedo the extension will harm Israeli security.

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