AMMAN: Israel’s Knesset early on Tuesday failed to renew a temporary law that bars Arab citizens from extending citizenship or residency rights to spouses from the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
The 59-59 vote in parliament marked a major setback for Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law was enacted as a temporary measure in 2003, at the height of the Second Intifada.
Bennett had hoped to find a compromise between hard line and moderate factions within his coalition. But he suffered a stinging defeat in a vote he reportedly described as “a referendum on the new government.”
The law is now set to expire at midnight on Tuesday.
However, experts warm that Israeli security officials will find new ways of keeping Palestinians from obtaining residency or citizenship through marriage.
Jafar Farah, head of the Mossawa Center in Haifa, told Arab News that the defeat of the law came as a result of “advocacy, protests by families and hard work by many.”
Farah said: “We and the affected families organized dozens of meetings with parliamentarians, the media and other groups to explain the difficulties that married families have to go through to be together.”
He called on parliamentarians to “continue the struggle” until an appropriate family reunification law is enacted.
“The Israeli policy allows any Jew in the world to get permanent citizenship once they arrive at the airport, while at the same time, it perpetuates the division of Palestinian families using security and demographics excuses,” Farah said.
Um Yasmin, a Palestinian mother from Jerusalem who married a Palestinian from Bethlehem, told Arab News that she hopes that the absence of the law will help her family lead a normal life.
“We have been forced to have two homes in order not to lose our right to live in Jerusalem,” she said.
Wadie Abu Nassar, director of the Haifa-based International Center for Consultations, told Arab News that the failure of the coalition in the Knesset indicates a growing leadership crisis in Israel.
“Naftali Bennett and Mansour Abbas (leader of the United Arab List) showed that they are unable to control their own parties and mind the gaps among the components of the coalition, which they created just a few weeks ago,” he said.
But Abu Nassar added that he was unsure whether the absence of this law will affect separated families.
“While 1,600 Palestinian families, who were supposed to get some quick easing in the process of unification — as part of the deal between Israel’s interior minister and Mansour Abbas — will not get immediate relief, Israel’s secret service would have to work a lot to examine case by case instead of hiding behind the law for declining requests for family unifications,” he said.
Jessica Montell, director of HaMoked, an Israeli human rights organization based in Jerusalem, told Arab News that the majority of those affected by the law are Palestinian residents of Jerusalem.
“About 70 percent of the persons affected by this law are residents of East Jerusalem and not Israeli citizens. In fact, the law disproportionately harms the weakest population: Women from poor families with few tools to navigate this hostile bureaucracy,” she said.
Shawan Jabarin, director of Al-Haq Human rights organization, told Arab News that the law has always had racist underpinnings.
He said: “Israel’s racist policies are being exposed bit by bit. This was a political law that was hiding behind security cover. Palestinian families have suffered for 18 years. Isn’t that enough?”
The Knesset enacted the law in July 2003. It forbids Israelis married to, or who will marry in the future, residents of the occupied territories from living in Israel with their spouses.
Israelis married to foreign nationals who are not residents of the occupied territories are still allowed to submit requests for family unification on their behalf.
The controversial law received strong international condemnation at the time of its introduction.
The Geneva-based Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination unanimously approved in August 2003 a resolution saying the Israeli law violated an international human rights treaty.