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Israel’s new government fails to renew disputed citizenship law

Israel's parliament failed to renew a disputed law that bars granting citizenship to Palestinians married to Israeli citizens.

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On Tuesday, Israel’s parliament botched an unclear law that would yield citizenship or residency to Palestinians from the occupied West Bank or Gaza who are wedded to Israeli citizens, dealing a hindrance to the new coalition government.

An early-morning vote in the Knesset knotted at 59-59, short of a simple majority needed to extend the 2003 law, which expired at midnight. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called the vote “a premeditated, direct blow to national security.”

The vote highlights challenges Prime Minister Bennett, an ultranationalist, has already begun to face managing his ideologically diverse coalition, which was sworn in last month and includes left-wing parties as well as an Arab party.

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, combined by one lawmaker from Bennett’s own Yamina party.

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 has 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.

“I have been married for 26 years and have had to renew my temporary residency annually,” said Asmahan Jabali, a Palestinian married to a man from Taybeh, an Arab village in central Israel.

Jabali, who has coordinated advocacy against the law, estimates that tens of thousands of families are in similar situations. “This is a temporary victory, but it is only the beginning,” she said.

Vowing to “fix” the situation, Bennett said on Tuesday that Netanyahu and others had chosen “petty politics over the good of the citizens of Israel, and they will owe a long reckoning to the citizens of Israel for their actions.”

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