Israel’s Desperate Attempt To Renew The Citizenship Law Goes In Vain

Palestinian married to Israelis will be normally processed under the 1952 Citizenship Law which allows for gradual naturalization i.e., first B-1 work visa, temporary resident status, then permanent residency, and then finally citizenship.

The Naftali Bennett government on July 6 failed to renew the contentious Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law that bans Palestinians who marry Israelis to get residency or citizenship status. The law was initially passed in 2003 amidst the second Palestinian uprising (Second Intifada) and it has been renewed continuously for 17 years until now. It was introduced as a temporary measure to bar Palestinians and members of other enemy states from receiving citizenship or residency.

Israeli officials called it a “security” measure because they claimed that several Palestinian Israelis and their children were involved in terror attacks. According to the Shin Bet security service, around 48 Palestinian Israelis or their children were responsible for terrorist activities in the country. This law was renewed annually almost with the absolute majority every time. However, this year under the coalition government, two members of Raam (the Arab Islamist party) abstained from voting while one member voted against the law.

The opposition headed by the former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voted against the renewal even though they have been supporting and extending the law every year. While Israeli officials admit that the law is necessary, they also agree that the law is also used as a demographic tool to maintain the Jewish majority in Israel. Several organizations and advocates have called this law racist and discriminatory that restricts the growth of the Arab minorities in Israel.

Women protesting against the Citizenship Law on July 5, 2021 (Picture credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“This separation is a deliberate attempt to control the reproductive rights, right to movement, and right to marriage of Palestinians,” said a US-based Palestinian student and activist.

This law was separating thousands of families and spouses who could only enter the country under certain circumstances with something equivalent of a tourist permit which was given for a time frame of as short and therefore, had to be continually renewed. These Palestinian spouses were not eligible for driving licenses, public health insurance, and most types of jobs. On the other hand, if an Israeli citizen decides to move to West Bank or Gaza, they will risk losing their citizenship. Such divisive law was a big hurdle for married couples on the two sides to live a stable, peaceful life.

Is there a new way forward?

With the Citizenship and Entry into Israel law no longer applicable, Palestinian married to Israelis will be normally processed under the 1952 Citizenship Law which allows for gradual naturalization i.e., first B-1 work visa, temporary resident status, then permanent residency, and then finally citizenship.

There are around 13,500 open cases of Palestinians applying for family reunification which froze after the 2003 law. After this change, each case will be individually examined by the Shin Bet security service and then by the Interior Ministry.

However, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked has announced her intention to reintroduce the law in the view of national security. Shaked is known as a stricter proponent of the entry measures against Palestinians. And according to the Kan public broadcaster, Shaked has privately said that she would reject each case of family reunification until there are fewer restrictions.

This also resonates with the words of the US-based Palestinian student who frustratedly remarked, “Even though they failed to extend the law, they will find another way to stop the reunification of families.”

It seems like the future consequences of this change are unpredictable with right-wing politicians lobbying to find a way around it and somehow marginalize Palestinians married to Israelis. But it would not be easy, given the precarious nature of the current government which is a coalition of eight diverse parties ranging from hard right-wing members to social democrats and Arabs.

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