Palestinian family reunification law up for Knesset vote, a day before deadline

After numerous delays, coalition to raise legislation Monday; Shaked says she doesn’t expect opposition to block it; Likud MK: We have yet to decide how to vote

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

The coalition is expected to bring the extension of the Palestinian family reunification law to a Knesset vote on Monday, though it faces an uphill battle to muster a majority to pass the measure.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina) confirmed Sunday that the law would be presented to the plenum the following day, after numerous delays, noting that she did not anticipate that right-wing opposition members would vote down the extension.

The law, which blocks the automatic granting of citizenship to Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens, expires on July 6. The government wants to extend the law by another year.

Members of Likud and other opposition parties, who support the reunification bill in principle, have vowed to oppose it in order to embarrass the new government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday doubled down on his demand to advance a quasi-constitutional Basic Law on immigration to replace the Palestinian family reunification law.

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

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and head of the Likud party leads a faction meeting in the Knesset on June 21, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90P)

That legislation — which was introduced and abandoned in the past — aims to limit and restrict immigration to Israel, and provide the state with greater capabilities in deporting those residing in the country illegally.

“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,” said Netanyahu.

According to Army Radio, Likud was conducting internal polling on whether a vote against the reunification law would upset its base.

Likud MK David Bitan said Sunday his party had not yet decided how it would vote on extending the Palestinian family reunification law.

Bitan told Kan public radio that “we still haven’t decided how to vote. We could vote in favor of the law if the coalition proves that it is prepared to work with us on the Basic Law on immigration, and if the coalition has not promised [to others] anything beyond what is stated in the law.”

The coalition will need some opposition support to approve the extension, as coalition members have refused to back it.

The left-wing Meretz party announced Thursday that it would oppose the government in extending the Palestinian family reunification law. But according to the Walla news site, the coalition was considering a compromise proposed by Meretz’s Issawi Frej, under which the law would be extended by six months rather than a year and a panel would be formed to consider individual cases on humanitarian grounds.

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.

According to Ynet, members of the coalition were hoping to convince the four MKs in the Ra’am Party, an Arab Islamist faction in the coalition, to abstain rather than vote against renewing the law. But last week, Ra’am MK Walid Taha vowed that he would never vote in favor or abstain from voting on the legislation, which he called “racist and anti-democratic.”

Shaked has reportedly threatened MKs in Ra’am and Meretz that if they did not support the legislation, the coalition would work to advance a quasi-constitutional law that would overhaul the immigration system in Israel, and ease the way for a greater number of deportations — similar to the Likud bill.

Protestors, including Joint List MK Ayman Odeh (center), hold a demonstration against the ‘family reunification law,’ outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 29, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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.

The controversial law has been extended every year since, usually with strong backing from Likud and other right-wing parties.

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