Photo Credit: Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90
PA Arabs illegally crossing the Israeli security fence, August 23, 2020.

On Thursday, MK Simcha Rotman (Religious Zionism) submitted a draft bill aimed at regulating Israeli immigration policy. It’s a basic law with broad powers, intended to blow out of the water the temporary provision of the Family Reunification Law which Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s coalition is promoting.

The family reunification process is conducted in Israel by the Interior Ministry, which accepts requests by Israeli Arabs for their family members living in the Palestinian Authority or abroad. This process usually takes many years, and most applicants end up petitioning the Jerusalem District Court. Most of the applications submitted for family reunification in Israel are by Arab citizens of Israel who married a PA resident.


The reason for this tough treatment of applicants is that a staggering percentage of the offspring of PA Arabs who acquired Israeli citizenship have been involved in carrying out acts of terrorism. As of 2018, members of the second generation of family reunification constitute about 15% of those involved in terrorism among Israeli Arabs (three times more than their relative share of the population).

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 PA. 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 goal of the right-wing opposition parties is to embarrass the three right-wing coalition partners—Yamina, New Hope, and Israel Beiteinu—assuming that Meretz and Ra’am would naturally oppose the proposed right-wing Basic Law on Immigration, which denies permanently the granting of Israeli citizenship to all PA Arabs.

The bill is signed by MKs Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionism), Amir Ohana (Likud), Amichai Shikli (Yamina), Uriel Uriel Buso (Shas), Yitzhak Pindros (United Torah Judaism) and Yinon Azulai (Shas).

Ayelet Shaked attacked the opposition last week, writing: “Next week I will put the citizenship law to a vote. I cannot imagine that the opposition will harm the security of the country in the name of political games. I am sure they will show the required maturity and support the law. I have no doubt that the head of the opposition will keep his word that in matters of Israeli security “there is no opposition and no coalition, in this matter we are all on one front.”

But now the opposition is determined to show up Yamina and New Hope, and demonstrate that by opposing the proposed permanent bill they act based on coalition interests and not Israel’s Zionist interest. And just as importantly, the opposition is sending a clear message to PM Naftali Bennett that they won’t be providing him tacit support from back benches. He’s out there on his own.

There’s no chance the opposition bill will be accepted any time soon (not by a Likud-led government, either), and its submission is just part of the perpetual waterboarding Prime Minister Bennett will have to endure for the remainder of his stint at the top. Will his potential voters embrace the confrontational message of the bill and turn away from the Yamina party? The answer to that, at least at this point, is, what Yamina voters? For the time being, everyone on the Yamina team has accepted that these may be the final four years of their political careers – the same may true for Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party.

The Minister of Regional Cooperation, Issawi Frej (Meretz), told Reshet Bet radio on Saturday that he would not vote in favor of renewing the temporary ordinance banning the unification of Arab families. He clarified “I will not vote against the government, but I will not vote for this law.”

Frej also said the coalition factions are trying to reach an agreement on the law. “There’s a dialogue among us on many issues, including this issue,” he said. “The dialogue is not over yet and I hope we reach an agreed point that would satisfy all the parties.” The Meretz minister did not say he wanted to kill the law, only to “fix it.”

Back in 2015, when the Knesset plenum voted on the same ordinance, Labor MK Nachman Shai, currently the Minister of the Diaspora, said that the Citizenship Law lies “at the important seam in our lives between Democracy and our Jewish foundation. It’s the connection that always accompanies us. Any tendency to one side or the other strikes the delicate balance. The dilemma is clear before our eyes. If we go in the direction of family reunification while the fight against terrorism continues, we are endangering the citizens of the State of Israel. If we go in the direction of unrestrained entry we threaten the Jewish character of the State of Israel. On the other hand, basic rights must be respected, and their right to live together with their spouses must be respected. To take care of their children. This is the dilemma we’ve faced since the establishment of the State of Israel.”


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