Israel granted citizenship to 1,200 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem last year, an all-time high, government figures show.
The figure is three times the number in 2018.
The number of citizenship requests denied — 1,361 — was similarly at an unprecedented high last year. Applications are usually rejected because the applicants either can’t prove East Jerusalem is their “center of life,” can’t show Hebrew fluency, or fail to win a recommendation by security authorities.
In a statement, the Population and Immigration Authority said that applicants’ center of life is a “significant part” of the criteria that determine if permanent residency has been established, noting it is also the practice in many other countries.
The sharp jump in approvals and rejections was not due to any change in the rate at which Palestinians are requesting the citizenship, the Haaretz daily reported Monday, but in the Israeli government’s expediting of the approval process following a High Court of Justice decision that criticized the inefficiency in the citizenship request system. The approved requests had all been filed before 2019. Those filed last year are expected to be dealt with by the end of 2020.
Among the measures taken were hiring new Arabic-speaking workers and efforts to prevent fixers from selling appointments at the immigration authority, which had increased waiting times for those who didn’t pay for a time slot, Haaretz reported. There is also a website for citizenship applications in the pipeline.
East Jerusalem is claimed by Israel, and was annexed in the wake of the 1967 Six Day War, and again declared Israeli in the 1980 Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel. The Israeli declarations are not recognized by the international community.
Israel considers the entire city its capital, while the Palestinians see the eastern sector as the capital of their future state.
Since Israel captured East Jerusalem and subsequently claimed sovereignty there, it has formally offered residents living in that area the option to apply for Israeli citizenship. Until around a decade ago, very few did, as the vast majority identified, and still do identify, as Palestinian and worry that accepting citizenship amounted to recognizing Israeli annexation.
Recent years, however, have seen a surge in the number of East Jerusalemites seeking Israeli citizenship, though the majority of those applications have yet to be processed.
Since 2009, there have been some 800-1,000 requests each year, with around 400 being granted annually.
Between 2014 and September 2016, the processing of citizenship applications for thousands of East Jerusalemites came to an almost complete halt, The Times of Israel reported at the time.
Currently, there are more than 350,000 Arab East Jerusalemites, around 37 percent of the capital’s population. As permanent residents, they pay taxes and are entitled to state benefits like healthcare and social security.
However, they cannot vote in national elections, apply for an Israeli passport, or run for mayor. They can vote in municipal elections, yet most choose not to in protest.