Barring a last-minute change, on Monday the Citizenship Law, a.k.a. the Family Reunification Law, will go to a vote in the Knesset plenum, ushering in the first major test of the Bennett-Lapid coalition. Three days after the swearing-in of the government, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked announced her intention to bring the law to a vote, to continue its annual extension as has been done every year since 2003. But some coalition parties like RA’AM and Meretz oppose it on ideological grounds.
The coalition recorded its first loss Monday morning when it failed in its attempt to move the discussion of the Citizenship Law from the Knesset Organizing Committee to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. 17 MKs voted against the coalition’s move, only 14 MKs supported it. But this did not mean the coalition has lost the plenum vote, which is still due on Monday.
On May 12, 2002, the Israeli government proposed to restrict the family reunification clause of the Citizenship Law, by closing the door firmly before all citizenship seekers from the Palestinian Authority. There have been two appeals of the restriction to the Supreme Court, and both were rejected by a 6-5 majority. However, the 2002 legislation was created with a one-year sunset, so that the provision must be renewed by the Knesset every single year. In fact, the current vote on renewing the law was submitted three months ago, as is the due process, by the Netanyahu government.
The first to announce that he would oppose the law was Minister of Regional Cooperation Issawi Frej (Meretz). After the coalition delayed the vote on the provision due to its difficulty in forming a majority, Prime Minister Bennett and Minister Shaked sat in an all-night meeting with RA’AM chairman Mansour Abbas to reach a compromise. They offered medical care to PA Arab families in Israel, exemptions to couples who were married before 2003, and other gifts. But on the morning of that overnight meeting, RA’AM withdrew from the agreement after hearing from other Arab parties and because of fears that Shaked would not comply with the deal. At which point RA’AM MK Mazen Ghanaim announced he would vote against the law even if his party decided otherwise.
A week ago, the coalition again delayed the vote on the Citizenship Law in committee after Meretz officials made it clear in closed-door talks that if RA’AM does not support the law, they also won’t vote for it, and last Thursday, Meretz announced that “if the law does get to a vote anyway – Meretz will oppose it.”
Last Thursday, MK Ibtisam Mara’ana (Labor) said the Citizenship Law must be changed and called it “discriminatory and racist.”
Likud MK Avi Dichter who served as head of the Shin Bet from 2000 to 2005 and contributed to the elimination of the terror infrastructure in Judea and Samaria, on Sunday called on the right-wing opposition parties to put aside their battle with the Lapid-Bennett government when it comes to protecting Israel against the legalized infiltration of potentially subversive PA Arabs.
“I was the head of the Shin Bet at the time,” Dichter recalled the years before the enactment of the 2003 law banning reunification of Israeli Arabs with their spouses from the liberated territories. “I remember well the wave of approvals of family reunification requests that the state was inevitably required to approve in the midst of the second Intifada. Some of those who came in through family reunification took part in severe suicide bombings and other attacks, taking advantage of their ability to move around Israel with a vehicle with yellow license plates and a blue ID card (both normative aspects of Israeli citizenship – DI). This is how the people who drove the suicide bomber to the Park Hotel in Netanya acted on the Seder eve of 2002, as did many other suicide bombers who killed and wounded hundreds of Israelis.”
The opposition parties were expected to be in favor of the law ideologically, especially in light of the fact that the previous government ministers voted in favor of this very proposal, based on security concerns. But now they claim they would oppose it, to illustrate the problematic nature of the new government.
Opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu in a meeting with some of the opposition leaders said: “We will vote against the Citizenship Law and we will not cooperate. They have formed a coalition with the Arabs – let them get along with them.”
But the controversy has already permeated the opposition ranks as well. Sunday night Kan 11 News reported that some Likud MKs are demanding a vote in the faction Monday on whether to support the law. In addition, the opposition is considering turning the vote on the law into a no-confidence vote in the government but fears the decision could help the coalition gain a majority.
Sunday, before the weekly cabinet meeting, Minister Shaked clarified that the Citizenship Law would be submitted to a plenum vote Monday as is.
“Opposition leaders also saw the Shin Bet’s opinion less than a month ago and understood that the law must be passed,” Shaked said. “I don’t believe they will change their minds.”
Since then, Kan 11 reported that the coalition is trying to promote a compromise whereby the passage of the law would be for only six months, and a committee would be set up to discuss humanitarian relief for the families of Israeli and PA Arabs.