Israeli parliament reinstates law barring naturalisation of Palestinian spouses

The law passed in a 45-15 vote

From left, Avigdor Lieberman, Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. The prime minister's hawkish Yamina party allied with right-wing factions in the opposition to pass the legislation. AP

Israeli politicians reinstated a law barring Palestinian spouses from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip from obtaining citizenship via marriage to Israeli citizens.

The law will deny naturalisation to Arabs from the Palestinian territories married to Israeli citizens, forcing thousands of Palestinian families to make the impossible choice of either emigrating or living apart.

Dozens of politicians in the 120-seat chamber did not cast their votes on the divisive legislation that was passed on Thursday.

The bill passed into law in a 45-15 vote.

Known as the “citizenship law”, it reinstates a ban that was first enacted in 2003 during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

The legislation had been renewed continuously until last July, when Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's newly sworn-in coalition did not unite around it after failing to gain the support of the opposition.

Mr Bennett's hawkish Yamina party allied with right-wing factions in the opposition to pass the legislation, ignoring the protests of more liberal parties inside and outside government.

Proponents say the bill helps to ensure Israel's security and maintain its “Jewish character”.

Some Knesset members said it was intended to prevent a gradual right of return for Palestinian refugees who were driven from their homes or fled during the 1948 war that led to Israel's creation.

Under the terms of the citizenship law, which will be valid for a one-year period, Palestinian spouses of Israelis can obtain two-year residence permits, which can be revoked on security grounds.

The restored legislation will have an outsize effect on Israel's 20 per cent Arab minority, who share language, family and cultural ties with Palestinians in the territories Israel has occupied since 1967.

“The combination of forces between the coalition and the opposition led to an important result for the security of the state and its fortification as a Jewish state,” said Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, the driving force behind the bill and a member of Mr Bennett's party.

Bezalel Smotrich of the nationalist Religious Zionism bloc said the law was “a correct and good outline”.

Politician Gaby Lasky from the dovish Meretz party called the law “a black spot on the book of laws in Israel” and wrote on Twitter that “Meretz, as a whole, voted against racism”.

Mansour Abbas, the head of the Raam Islamist party, also opposed the legislation.

Several rights groups have announced that they will challenge the law in Israel's Supreme Court.

“The justices will now have to decide whether, when faced with the law's explicit language, they will continue to allow this racist law to be protected under the eternal pretext of temporality,” said the Adalah advocacy group.

“It comes off as more xenophobic or racist [than other laws] because it is not only giving extra rights and privileges to Jewish people, but also preventing certain basic rights only from the Arab population,” said Reut Shaer, a lawyer with the Association of Civil Rights in Israel.

The law also bars the union of Israeli citizens or residents and spouses from “enemy states”, such as Lebanon, Syria and Iran. However, it mostly affects Palestinian women and children, said Ms Shaer.

It is a form of “collective punishment” because it infringes on the rights of an entire population based on the racist assumption that they are all prone to terrorism, she said.

Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war.

Updated: March 11, 2022, 5:52 AM