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Bennett government fails first Knesset test

Israel's new government has failed to win Knesset approval to extend family unification legislation often cited as a security issue.

In a blow to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s new government, the Knesset failed to extend a 2003 amendment to the law governing citizenship and entry into Israel. Despite strong efforts by the coalition, 59 Knesset members voted in favor and 59 Knesset members objected. Two coalition legislators from Muslim Ra’am party — Mansour Abbas and Waleed Taha — abstained from the vote. In a somewhat surprise move, Yamina legislator and rebel Amichai Chikli voted against the bill, joining the opposition to defeat the law. At the last minute, the opposition turned the vote into a no-confidence vote in the government.

The amendment to the law was first adopted in 2003, during the second intifada, as means of preventing Palestinians from entering Israel on the basis of family unification with an Israeli spouse. Since then, 12-month extensions of the amendment have been approved annually. With this year’s failure to extend it, the amendment is no longer in force.

Over the years, Meretz and the Arab parties have strongly objected to this measure. When the issue came up after the establishment of the new government, Bennett met with all of Meretz legislators in an effort to reach an agreement that would allow the vote to pass. That meeting reportedly ended without any results, as the premier did not accept the compromise outline proposed by Meretz, which included automatic residency for Palestinian adults already living in Israel and further evaluation on a case-by-case basis.

Later on, to preserve the coalition, Meretz and Ra’am agreed to a compromise with Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked extending the legislation for six months. During this period, a panel would be established to examine more long-term humanitarian solutions. Also, 1,600 Palestinians living in Israel would be granted residency rights.

After the vote, Shaked denounced the Likud for killing the legislation, stressing that Israel’s security establishment had always deemed it important for national security. Shaked tweeted that it was a great victory for post-Zionism, criticizing the Likud for siding with the Joint List against clearly right-wing legislation.

Shaked also said, “Do not be misled: The promiscuous conduct of the Likud and [Religious Zionism leader Bezalel] Smotrich overthrew the citizenship law and will lead to 15,000 citizenship applications.”


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