Barely a week has passed since the new government was sworn in and it’s already facing its first test in the form of the Citizenship and Entry Law. On the face of it, this would seem to be a bureaucratic law that deals with the process for Israeli citizenship, but in fact it’s a very important law that prevents PA residents who marry Israeli Arabs from automatically receiving citizenship. Officially it’s a temporary law that is renewed annually by the Knesset since it was first passed in 2003. However, the Ra’am Party objects to it being renewed in its current form, and the left-wing parties also object to it calling it racist and discriminatory. The coalition expected that the 52 right-wing members of the opposition would support the bill and save them from a major headache, but the opposition made it clear that “we will not provide the coalition with a safety net that will give it even one extra day in power.”
In order to understand the parliamentary machinations behind this, we have to go back to the days of the Second Intifada. At the time, the Shin Bet warned of a silent Law of Return that PA residents were taking advantage of. Thousands of Israeli Arabs were marrying PA residents and were using the marriage to request Israeli citizenship for their spouses. And, some of the PA residents who received citizenship that way participated in terror attacks. In light of that, as well as the unlimited numbers of people who would potentially try to get citizenship that way, then-Interior Minister Eli Yishai added a temporary provision to the citizenship law that would prevent PA residents from receiving Israeli citizenship through marriage.
An appeal was made to the Supreme Court against this law, but it was upheld by a narrow majority of 6-5, the reasoning being that it was only temporary and would require renewal by the Knesset every year.
According to the procedure, every year the bill is brought before the Knesset’s Interior Committee, where the defense establishment explains the justification for the continuation of the law. After the committee grants its approval, it is brought before the full Knesset for a vote. The temporary law is set to automatically expire on July 6. The government planned on giving it a temporary extension—which wouldn’t require Knesset approval—so they wouldn’t have to deal with a vote yet, but that would have to be signed off by the chairman of the Interior Committee, who is Ra’am Chairman Mansour Abbas… He can’t be seen by his voters as signing off on a bill that discriminates against Israeli Arabs. Therefore, the government wanted to transfer the bill to the Foreign and Defense Committee, but the opposition announced that they would oppose such a move.