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Explosive Bill Poses First Test for Israel’s Strained Bennett Government
A woman holds up a sign protesting an ordinance that prevents Palestinians married to Israeli Arabs from obtaining residency rights in Israel, at the checkpoint between Jerusalem and the West Bank town of Hizma, March 9, 2013. (Abbas Momani/AFP via Getty Images)

Explosive Bill Poses First Test for Israel’s Strained Bennett Government

Islamic member of coalition set to oppose controversial decision, leaving the prime minister dependent on Netanyahu’s opposition

Israel’s rocky coalition government will soon face its first major test, after Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked on Thursday announced that next week she will introduce a resolution to extend an existing law prohibiting Palestinians married to Israeli citizens from living in Israel.

The controversial temporary ordinance, passed in 2003 in an attempt to stem the wave of terror attacks by Palestinians who had moved into Israel, has been extended periodically over the years, and is again set to expire in three weeks’ time.

Yet the new government, headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and not yet a week old, appeared on Thursday to lack the required majority to pass the extension.

I’m certain [right-wing opposition MPs] will support the bill. I have no doubt the head of the opposition will follow through on his own words that, regarding Israel’s security, ‘there is no coalition and opposition, we are all a united front’

“I intend to bring the citizenship bill to a vote next week. I can’t imagine the opposition harming our national security for the sake of scoring political points,” Shaked wrote on her Twitter account.

The previous government, led by current Opposition Leader Binyamin Netanyahu, intentionally delayed last week’s scheduled vote on the decree’s extension, hoping to embarrass the Bennett administration sworn in on Sunday.

“I’m certain [right-wing opposition MPs] will support the bill. I have no doubt the head of the opposition will follow through on his own words that, regarding Israel’s security, ‘there is no coalition and opposition, we are all a united front,’” Shaked said, taking a jab at Netanyahu.

Though the patchwork coalition, which also incorporates the Islamic Ra’am party that will oppose the extension, has called on the opposition to assist in the vote, and despite the fact the parties making up Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc support the bill and have extended it themselves for years while in power, it appears that their desire to humiliate Bennett and Shaked, their former allies, could prevail.

Now that same government is trying to blame the opposition for its failures. This is their responsibility and theirs alone

“We’ve been warning for months that forming a government that depends on Israel’s terror-supporting enemies is a catastrophe for the Jewish state, and that such a coalition will be unable to protect Israel’s vital interests,” the far-right Religious Zionism party told The Media Line via a spokesperson, referring to the Ra’am faction.

“Now that same government is trying to blame the opposition for its failures. This is their responsibility and theirs alone.”

According to the measure – which has been prolonged every year since its enactment nearly two decades ago, including the past 12 years of Netanyahu’s reign – the Interior Ministry can bar residents of the Palestinian Authority who marry Arab Israeli citizens from entering the country and uniting with their families.

“Family members should be allowed to live with each other. It’s a basic human right. When Israel singles out Palestinians, and views them all as enemies, instead of considering each case individually and checking whether it poses a threat to its security or not, that’s racism,” Adalah Deputy Director attorney Sawsan Zaher told The Media Line.

Zaher’s organization unsuccessfully petitioned the Supreme Court over a decade ago, and again in 2012, to strike down the temporary order.

Now we’re 18 years later and it’s been extended 22 times. This is no temporary sanction. Let’s be clear – it’s not about security anymore. The issue is the demographic concern

“The state claimed it was an urgent and merely short-term need, because of the Intifada [the 2000-2005 wave of intensified Palestinian terrorist attacks on Israelis]. That’s why the court upheld it in a 6-5 decision,” Zaher said.

“Now we’re 18 years later and it’s been extended 22 times. This is no temporary sanction. Let’s be clear – it’s not about security anymore. The issue is the demographic concern.”

Israel fears that the unchecked entrance of Palestinians from the West Bank into its territory could eventually alter the demographic balance and threaten the Jewish majority inside the pre-1967 borders.

“I’ve asked Opposition Leader Netanyahu to act to ensure the bill’s passage – a crucial step to protect Israel’s security,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Thursday.

“Security considerations should be placed above political ones.”

The legislative hurdle will be the second political landmine placed by Netanyahu at the feet of his successors during his final days in office.

On Tuesday, the controversial Flag March, led by ultra-religious activists and far-right groups, was held in the Old City of Jerusalem after being pushed back a week by the outgoing cabinet.

Apart from some minor skirmishes between police and Arab residents, who perceive the annual event as a provocation meant to ignite the volatile Jerusalem streets, the day passed without any major violent repercussions.

If indeed the complex Bennett coalition fails to extend the statute, the consequences will be far more than just political.

“It means the restrictions expire, so people living in Israel whose status was unclear till now can start applying for legal residency,” Zaher explains. “It also means there’s no constant fear of separation, that thousands of people could be legalized, and maybe receive social benefits that they aren’t entitled to today.”

Others fear the termination of the measure could spell the end of the Jewish state.

“This could lead to a de facto silent right of return,” MP Simcha Rothman of the Religious Zionism warned, alluding to the Palestinian demand that Israel allow the descendants of Palestinian refugees to live in Israel, which Jerusalem has consistently rejected.

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