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Family reunification bill for Palestinian spouses passes first reading in Knesset

First approved as a temporary measure in 2003 • Legislation must now pass a second and third reading before it can become law.

The Knesset plenum in Jerusalem. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
The Knesset plenum in Jerusalem. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

A bill seeking to regulate the status and residency of Palestinian spouses of Arab Israelis passed its first reading in the Knesset on Monday night.

The “family reunification law” was first approved as a temporary measure in 2003 and continued to be renewed annually by the Knesset until last July, when it failed to pass after a deadlock over the opposition’s rejection of a last-minute compromise.

At the time, the legislation’s rejection was seen as a blow to the new government, and the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) warned that the inability to renew the measure would be a threat to national security. Introduced during the Second Intifada, the measure was enacted in order to prevent terror attacks by barring Palestinians who married Israelis from obtaining permanent residency.  This measure came after a Hamas member, Shadi Tubasi, who received an Israeli identity card by marriage, killed 16 Israelis in a terror attack over Passover in 2002. However, rights groups have charged that the law discriminates against Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. As a result, thousands of Palestinians married to Israelis live in Israel with only temporary documentation.

However, on Monday, just five lawmakers opposed Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked’s version of the bill, which won 44 votes in a rare sign of collaboration between the government and opposition parties.

The Arab Joint List and Meretz Party both strongly opposed the legislation, but did not vote against the bill. Instead, members abstained and walked out.

In a statement on Twitter, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said that “Zionism and common sense prevailed,” and thanked both the government coalition and opposition members.

The legislation must now pass a second and third reading before it can become law.

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