Cabinet Eases Restrictions on Arab Immigration

The Cabinet approved regulations on Sunday easing restrictions on the immigration and naturalization of Arabs from Judea and Samaria who have married Israeli-Arabs.

, | updated: 15:44

The decision, which passed by a 16-2 majority, applies to Arab women from Judea and Samaria over the age of 25 and Arab men over the age of 35. They will be allowed to live in Israel with their Israeli-Arab spouses, and ultimately attain Israeli citizenship. The decision will enable some 200 Arabs to gain Israeli citizenship this year, and many more in the future.

In the recent years of murderous Arab terrorism, the Interior Ministry did not deal at all with "family reunification" requests of this nature. Yesterday's decision represents a compromise between those who favored removing the restrictions even further and those who wished to keep all restriction in place. It will remain in effect for one year.

Former Welfare Minister Zevulun Orlev (NRP) said that the decision is a "removal of a brick from the defensive wall protecting Israel as a Jewish State." He said it is liable to "collapse the Jewish majority in Israel, and shows a weakness in our confidence in the justness of Zionism."

In recent years, Orlev said, some 150,000 Yesha Arabs have moved into pre-1967 Israel because of Israeli permissiveness in the reunification procedures.

Attorney-General Meni Mazuz said the comprise proposal was the “minimum” the government must approve in order to avoid censure by the High Court. After the outbreak of the Oslo War, when a number of new Arab immigrants became involved in terrorist activity, Israel severely curtailed the number of immigrant permits it grants to the non-Israeli spouses of Israeli-Arabs. Those restrictions have been attacked in petitions presented to the high court by civil rights organizations such as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).

Interior Minister Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor) supported a more liberal policy that would have lowered the eligibility requirement for alien Arab women to 20. A spokesman for the Minister, Gilad Heiman, said Paz’s proposal would have allowed up to 600 Arabs a year to move to Israel.

Paz was not satisfied with the compromise, which was proposed by Justice Minister Tzippy Livny. He said it violated human rights and would be rejected by the Supreme Court. "There is certainly a violation of human rights, including those of Israeli citizens," he told Army Radio. "There is a law here that is completely unfair, differentiating betwen Jewish citizens and Arab citizens."

Paz’s concerns were echoed by Israel Radio legal commentator Moshe Negbi. "I think the real issue here is what is called the demographic issue, the fear that the clear-cut majority of Jews in Israel would be reduced," Negbi said. "It's not said publicly, because it has racist, non-politically correct connotations.”

Livny defended her proposal, telling Army Radio before the cabinet vote that “every country has the right to determine limits on who will enter and who will become a citizen of the country. There is no discrimination, because we are not dealing with the rights of Israeli citizens, but rather the desire of those who are not currently citizens to be citizens in the future.”

The ministerial committee that discussed the various proposals suggested that Israel adopt laws like the ones enacted in Denmark and Holland, which limit the naturalization of Muslim immigrants.

MK Eli Yishai (Shas) said that the government’s decision was tantamount to “enabling the Right of Return through the back door" and "represents a danger to the entire enterprise of Israel.”

MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union) said, “The government is continuing the anti-Zionist policy of the expulsion plan by opening a crack in the Law of Return” - the legislation adopted shortly after Israel’s establishment that allows any Jew to immigrate freely to Israel.

MK Uri Ariel (National Union) said, “The government is turning racist against Jews, expelling them from their land, while at the same time allowing Palestinian immigration, endangering the country demographically and exposing it to terrorism."