Setback for Naftali Bennett as Arab Citizenship rights law loses vote in the Knesset

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The newly elected coalition government of Israel under Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has suffered a major set back in its early days. The Israeli parliament Knesset has voted against extension of the highly controversial legislation that prohibits Arab citizens from extending their citizenship and also denies citizenship to Palestinian spouses from occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank.

The voting in Knesset, that ended Tuesday morning after an all night marathon of voting, decided against renewing the law with votes 59-59. This is being viewed as a major jolt to Bennett with his failure to unite coalition’s ideological wing.

With this law being denied extension, it would effectively expire at midnight and thereby trigger at least 15,000 applications of citizenship from Gaza and West Bank residents. This directly waves red flag over the national security of Israel and threatens Jewish character of the country, the reason for which the law was first enforced in 2003, though temporarily.

The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law has been labeled by human rights organizations as racist, targeting Arab population and denying families to live together. The law was introduced temporarily in 2003 by Israel at peak of second uprising to tackle growing attacks by Palestinians within Israel.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu played a key role in Knesset in withholding votes from his party required for law’s renewal. “With all due respect for this law, the importance of toppling the government is greater,” Netanyahu said Monday. “This isn’t just a law. It’s a law that exposes the fault-line in this government, whose purpose is to advance an anti-Zionist agenda.”

The voting outcome has brought hope to many families who have been affected by the law for years. Taiseer Khatib, an Arab citizen of Israel whose wife from the West Bank city of Jenin has to regularly apply for permits to live in Israel with him and their three children said, “You want your security, it’s no problem, you can check each case by itself. There’s no need for this collective punishment just because you are Palestinian.”

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