Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked on Saturday hit out at Yamina MK Amichai Chikli — a rebel member of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s right-wing party — for casting the deciding vote this week against extending the Palestinian family reunification law.
“He promised to vote in favor of it, that he wouldn’t surprise me,” Shaked, the No. 2 in Yamina, wrote on Facebook. “I believed him. But he chose to believe the lies of Likud and Religious Zionism concerning the fictitious numbers about the understandings.”
According to Shaked, Chikli told her he would either vote to back an extension of the law — which prevents Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens from automatically receiving citizenship or residency — or abstain.
“If he had informed me 10 minutes before the vote that he broke [under pressure], we would have obtained a third MK from Ra’am,” she asserted, in reference to the Islamist party in the coalition, of which two MKs voted in favor of the extension and two MKs abstained.
Chikli voted last month against the establishment of the new coalition, which spans right-wing, centrist, left-wing and Islamist parties and has a razor-thin Knesset majority, even though it made his own party leader Bennett prime minister. But he subsequently said he would vote with the coalition on most matters, seemingly giving it a cushion.
In a major blow to the fledgling coalition, however, the Knesset on Tuesday morning failed to approve an extension of the contentious Palestinian family reunification law after Chikli opposed it. The early morning vote — after an all-night debate — ended in a tie, with 59 lawmakers supporting the motion and 59 opposing it, meaning the law expired later Tuesday.
Bennett early Tuesday had declared that he regarded the vote as a motion of confidence in the government, after reaching a compromise agreement with the coalition’s Islamist Ra’am party and the left-wing Meretz and Labor to extend the law by six months instead of for a year. “Whoever votes in favor [of the legislation] is expressing confidence in the government. Whoever votes against, is expressing no confidence in the government,” Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy said on Bennett’s behalf.
However, even if the opposition had mustered an absolute majority of 61 MKs in the vote, the government would have remained intact. To bring down the coalition, the opposition would need to muster 61 or more votes, backing a specific, named candidate for prime minister, in a formal motion of no confidence in the government.
The family reunification law, which blocks the automatic granting of Israeli citizenship or residency to Palestinians on the basis of marriage to an Israeli, was first enacted in 2003, and has been extended annually.
The law was initially passed after some 130,000 Palestinians entered Israel via family reunification between 1993 and 2003, including during the Second Intifada onslaught of Palestinian terrorism. The stated prime concern at the time was that some Palestinians gaining Israeli status would engage in terrorism, but there was also a demographic goal: The security establishment assesses that some 200,000 Palestinians would gain Israeli citizenship or residency each decade were it not for this legislation, Channel 12 reported.
The Shin Bet security agency, in an opinion widely quoted in Hebrew media in recent days, has stated that “the primary danger posed by family reunifications stems from the potential recruitment [of Palestinians who become Israeli citizens or residents] by terrorist organizations, and their high potential to act as lone terrorists.”
While the right-wing Likud and Religious Zionism opposition parties support the law in principle, they voted against extending it, along with the ultra-Orthodox parties and the Joint List, to embarrass the government.