Abir Sultan / AP
In a blow to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Israel’s parliament failed to renew a controversial law that prevents Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza from obtaining residency in Israel after marrying Palestinians with Israeli citizenship.
Tuesday’s vote was 59-59. The law required a simple majority to pass what is usually a routine annual renewal. A new effort to reestablish the law could still come soon.
Bennett, who took office less than a month ago, was undermined by several members of his ruling coalition, including members of the United Arab List party and a rogue member of his own Yamina party, who voted against extending the law.
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his opposition Likud party, along with the Zionist religious party, also voted against the extension of the law despite having supported it in the past, in what was widely seen as an attempt by Netanyahu to fulfill a promise to “bring down this dangerous government.”
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, who is a member of Bennett’s Yamina party, said Netanyahu and his allies chose “a mean and ugly policy and let the country burn.”
Bennett said the opposition is damaging security
The result of the vote showed the fragility of the new coalition government, which is made up of eight political parties, ranging from the extreme right to the Islamist to the left, and whose main common goal so far has been to overthrow Netanyahu. In a post-voting press conference, Bennett said the opposition “intentionally and directly harmed the security of the state.”
“Out of some kind of spite and frustration, they hurt the country,” Bennett said.
The Israel Citizenship and Entry Law was enacted in 2003, when Palestinians launched attacks inside Israel, and has been renewed every year since. The law has been a source of stress and inconvenience for Israeli Arabs and their Palestinian partners in the adjacent West Bank and Gaza Strip, and it plays a key role in how or who they decided to marry.
Supporters of the law argue that it is necessary for national security and to preserve the demographic status of Israel’s Jewish population.
But critics have called the law a cruel and racist measure designed to restrict the growth of Israeli Arabs. In a statement, the Israel Civil Rights Association said “the law has been a stain on Israel” and called for the immediate removal of “all traces of the shameful Citizenship and Entry Law.”
It is unclear whether the vote will have an immediate effect on Palestinians seeking residency or citizenship. Applications will have to go through the Home Office and could be subject to additional scrutiny and a lengthy waiting process, according to Dahlia Scheindlin, a political strategist at The Century Foundation.
Palestinians held the vote
Among Palestinians, the result of Tuesday’s vote was greeted with celebration. Fatah Jadallah, who has a West Bank ID, has been married to his wife, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, for 17 years and was in the Knesset on Monday protesting against the law.
On Tuesday, Jadallah said, he woke up at 5 am to wait for the vote.
“I was very happy that I did it,” he said. “I couldn’t believe that we accomplished something that was impossible. I thank everyone who was with us and helped us.”