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'I'm sure we'll ultimately succeed in passing it'

Shaked vows to bring downed Palestinian family unification law to another vote

Interior minister says coalition will bring proposal back to Knesset within weeks; Yamina’s Chikli, who torpedoed measure, says he’d consider running with Likud in new elections

Raoul Wootliff is the producer and occasional host of the Times of Israel Daily Briefing podcast.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked addresses the Knesset on July 6, 2021. {Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked addresses the Knesset on July 6, 2021. {Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked vowed Tuesday that a law that barring Palestinians from obtaining Israeli citizenship through marriage, which was defeated earlier the same morning, “will be brought to a vote again” in the coming weeks.

“I’m sure we’ll ultimately succeed in passing it,” Shaked told Channel 13 news after the government’s failure to pass the Knesset motion. “I will not give up, I will find the right time in the coming weeks, and I will bring the Citizenship Law to a vote with the same wording.”

A predawn vote Tuesday on an annual extension to the contentious measure was torpedoed by Yamina MK Amichai Chikli, who voted with the opposition against the measure, drawing calls for his removal from the faction. With two members of the Islamist Ra’am coalition party abstaining, the 59-59 vote was not enough to pass the bill. The law expired at midnight Tuesday.

The law has historically been supported by right-wing parties as necessary for security and for ensuring Israel maintains a Jewish majority. However, several opposition parties from the right, including Likud and Religious Zionism, voted against the law’s extension as a means of embarrassing and weakening the coalition, which includes a wide array of parties from across the political spectrum.

Shaked said she was “ashamed” at the right-wing opposition parties’ behavior, calling it an “inconceivable act” that endangered Israel’s security.

“What happened yesterday in the Knesset was like a horror show. As soon as this important law fell, there were happy shouts from [Likud MK] Miri Regev and [Joint List chair] Ayman Odeh and their gang. It was contemptible,” she said.

Joint List MKs celebrate after a Knesset vote rejected an extension of the Palestinian family reunification law, in Jerusalem, July 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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 ever since.

The law was initially passed after some 130,000 Palestinians entered Israel via family reunification between 1993 and 2003, including during the Second Intifada. The prime concern stated at the time was that some Palestinians gaining Israeli status would engage in terrorism.

However, there was also an underlying demographic goal. The security establishment assesses that some 200,000 Palestinians would have gained Israeli citizenship or residency each decade were it not for this legislation, Channel 12 reported.

In order to pass the bill, a coalition compromise agreement with Ra’am, Labor and Meretz was put forward overnight Monday-Tuesday that reportedly entailed reducing the proposed extension to just six months instead of a year, issuing A-5 residency visas to some 1,600 Palestinian families, and establishing a committee to find humanitarian solutions to the other 9,700 Palestinians residing in Israel on military-issued stay permits.

Shaked, however, denied that anything was to be changed in the law itself.

“It’s the same law. The law was exactly the same, not a word was changed,” she said, noting the exception that it was to be renewed for six months instead of one year.

“At the same time,” she added, the government agreed to “expand considering the requests of 1,600 people” who are already residing in Israel, and grant them temporary resident status.

Earlier Tuesday, Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich said that Shaked had abandoned her principles as a right-winger.

“How did your hand not tremble when you signed the agreement that a week ago you said was dangerous for security?” he said, referring to the reported agreement with the coalition’s left-wing factions. “From a candidate for prime minister a few years ago, you have become nothing but a rag.”

MK Bezalel Smotrich visits the illegal outpost of Evyatar, in the West Bank, on June 27, 2021 (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Shaked responded by saying that the coalition had been “begging [Smotrich] for weeks to support the bill as it was.”

Writing on Twitter Tuesday afternoon, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu said his decision to vote against the law “halted [Prime Minister Naftali] Bennett and [Interior Minister Ayelet] Shaked’s attempt to sell the country to [Ra’aam chair] Mansour Abbas and grant citizenship to thousands of Palestinians.”

Likud said it would introduce a new law that would permanently ban Palestinian naturalization through marriage.

Following the vote, Bennett aimed his ire at party colleague Chikli for what the prime minister said was a flip-flop.

“I think he’s confused. An hour before the vote he said, ‘Under no circumstances will I vote to lower the gates and enable mass entry of Palestinians,'” Bennett said at a press conference.

Abbas on Tuesday blamed Chikli for the bill’s failure to pass, saying that he had done his part by supplying two votes for it and that others in the coalition needed to do a “thorough check” of lawmakers’ positions moving forward.

Yamina MK Amichai Chikli at the Knesset on June 22, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yamina officials say they are weighing whether to officially designate Chikli as a deserter from the party, which would come with sanctions. However, others in the party may be hesitant about the move, seeking to preserve Chikli as a potential supporter in a key vote on the state budget in the coming months, which the government must pass to survive.

Speaking to the Kan public broadcaster Wednesday morning, Chikli said that if elections were held today, he would vote for Likud, and may even consider running with the party.

“I have not changed my position in any way,” he claimed. “Yamina has formed a government without vision and without an anchor, in a move that is destroying the faith of the public. I am not there.”

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 prime minister. However, he subsequently said he would vote with the coalition on most matters.

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