JERUSALEM -Israel failed on Tuesday to renew a controversial law that bars granting citizenship or residency to Palestinians from the occupied West Bank or Gaza who are married to Israeli citizens, in a setback for the country’s new coalition government.
An early morning vote in parliament tied at 59-59, short of a simple majority required to extend the 2003 law. It expires at midnight between Tuesday and Wednesday.
The vote highlights challenges rightist Prime Minister Naftali Bennett may face managing his ideologically-diverse coalition, which includes left-wing parties and an Arab Islamist faction.
Two members of the United Arab List abstained from the vote. And in a bid to embarrass Bennett, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his right-wing Likud party, who had supported the bill in the past, voted against it.
Israel passed the law, a temporary ordinance, during the height of a Palestinian uprising. Most proponents say it helps ensure Israel’s security, while others say it maintains Israel’s “Jewish character”. It had been extended annually since 2003.
However, critics say it discriminates against Israel’s 21% Arab minority – who are Palestinian by heritage, Israeli by citizenship – by barring them from extending citizenship and permanent residency rights to Palestinian spouses. Exceptions are made on a case-by-case basis.
“I have been married for 26 years and have had to renew my temporary residency annually,” said Asmahan Jabali, a Palestinian who is married to a man from Taybeh, an Arab village in central Israel.
Jabali, who has coordinated advocacy against the law, estimates tens of thousands of families are in similar situations.
“This is a temporary victory, but it is only the beginning,” she said.
Urging lawmakers to support the law on Monday, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said: “It is one of the tools designed to ensure a Jewish majority in the State of Israel.
“Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, and our goal is to have a Jewish majority,” he said on Twitter, adding that without the law “there would be an increase in Palestinian terrorism”.
Lapid, a centrist, reached a power sharing deal with Bennett last month to unseat longtime premier Netanyahu. Their 61-member coalition in the 120-seat parliament pledged to focus on socioeconomic issues and avoid sensitive policy choices towards the Palestinians.