Israel’s disparate new coalition splits over law separating Palestinian families in first big test - International Burch University
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Israel’s disparate new coalition splits over law separating Palestinian families in first big test

TEL AVIV —After 15 hours of parliamentary debate that dragged into the early hours of Tuesday morning, Israel’s diverse new ruling coalition was unable to agree on extending a law preventing the reunification of Palestinian families divided by the Israeli separation barrier.

The split, the first political test for the new government, exposed the rifts within a coalition that is led by a hard-right politician but is bolstered by leftist and Arab parties.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s inability to pass the law, which was scuttled in a 59-59 deadlock vote, followed marathon negotiations and filibustering between Bennett and his coalition partners from the Arab-Islamist Raam party and the leftist Meretz party, who say the policy discriminates against Israel’s nearly 2 million Arab citizens who routinely marry across the Green Line.

The Israeli right, including Bennett, argue that the law is necessary to prevent the entry of Palestinians into Israel who could commit terror attacks against the country or threaten its Jewish demographic majority.[Long overlooked, Israel’s Arab citizens are increasingly asserting their Palestinian identity]

In the end, two lawmakers from Raam abstained and one member of Bennett’s own Yamina party voted against the law, to celebratory applause from members of the opposition, later joined by the cheers from members of the Arab List who have rejected the law.

The vote means that the law will expire on Tuesday at midnight.

Bennett is expected to continue negotiations with lawmakers in anticipation of a future vote, but, in the meantime, he has passed an interim arrangement extending the policy for six months and granting temporary resident status to 1,600 Palestinians who are already married to Israeli citizens.Naftali Bennett wearing a suit and tie: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett gestures as he speaks during his Yamina party faction meeting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem July 5, 2021.© Ronen Zvulun/Reuters Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett gestures as he speaks during his Yamina party faction meeting at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem July 5, 2021.

It will also establish a committee to find solutions for the almost 10,000 additional Palestinians living in Israel on limited, military-issued stay permits.

The development represents the first major political blow to Bennett’s three-week-old coalition, which is held together by a kaleidoscope of ideologically disparate parties and is now facing off against a bellicose opposition led by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has repeatedly vowed to topple the government that ended his 12-year rule.

Bennett accused Netanyahu, who continuously championed the law throughout his tenure and saw it pass with little fanfare, of engaging in political jockeying at the expense of the country’s security.

Netanyahu and his national-religious and ultra-Orthodox allies voted against the citizenship law and said that they would propose a more permanent basic law on immigration to accomplish the same end in the coming week.

“With all due respect for this law, the importance of toppling the government is greater. This isn’t just a law. It exposes the fault lines in this government, whose purpose is to promote an anti-Zionist agenda,” Netanyahu said at a meeting with his Likud party on Monday.

At the last minute, Netanyahu attempted to turn the event into a no-confidence vote, though the motion did not receive the required majority of 61, of the 120-seat Knesset, to pass.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, whose office, in the absence of the “citizenship law,” will need to oversee Palestinian family reunification requests on an individual basis, said that Netanyahu’s “reckless decision … to shoot down the citizenship law will lead to 15,000 [Palestinian] requests for citizenship.”

The “citizenship law” was originally passed in 2003 as a temporary ordinance in response to the wave of Palestinian bombings during the Second Intifada. Renewed annually ever since, it bars Palestinian citizens of Israel from extending their citizenship rights —including the ability to take out a driver’s license or obtain a legal job — to spouses who once lived in the West Bank or Gaza.

Thousands of Palestinians who have moved to live and establish families with their spouses in Israel without permanent residency are often unable to visit their families back home out of fear of being rejected at a border crossing when traveling back into Israel.

Mohammad Issa, a Palestinian-Israeli meat distributor from Jerusalem, has been unsuccessfully petitioning the Israeli Supreme Court for nearly two decades to secure legal residency status for his wife Wafa, originally from the West Bank city of Ramallah. Since she married some 20 years ago, she has only been back to Ramallah once, for an emergency surgery in a Palestinian hospital, but has missed countless other family gatherings with Mohammad, their six children, their grandchild, and their West Bank-based relatives.

While members of the Arab List called Tuesday’s failed vote a “victory for thousands of Palestinian families,” Issa said that, under Bennett “and a government of racists,” he was skeptical that the status quo would really change.

“Before he was prime minister Bennett was threatening the Arabs, talking about stealing their lands, about how he didn’t want for the two peoples to live side by side,” said Issa. “So good for him, he did it. What can I say?”I’m Israeli. My husband is Palestinian. We fear we can never go home. After more than a decade, Israelis wake up to a government without Netanyahu Naftali Bennett, set to be Israel’s next leader, represents a break with its more secular past


Department of International Relations and European Studies