Israeli Legislation regarding Citizenship and Residence Rights for Palestinian Residents of the Territories

Jerusalem, 10 August 2003

The State of Israel has allowed family reunification for many years, granting legal status in Israel to foreign spouses of Israeli citizens and permanent residents. In the first phase, the spouse would be granted temporary resident status, and after a period of time, he or she could be granted permanent resident status and, eventually, Israeli citizenship.

This policy was equally applied to spouses who were residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. During the last decade, tens of thousands of residents of these territories were granted legal status in Israel, and thousands granted Israeli citizenship. This legal status entitles the spouse to reside in Israel, to work, and to receive all social benefits.

In light of the recent armed conflict with Palestinian terror organizations, and the fact that the granting of such status has been abused by Palestinian residents of the territories for acts of terror, Israel found it necessary to review this policy.

Inasmuch as no sovereign nation permits the entry into its territory of foreign nationals who may pose a danger to its security, nor to take up residency, so is Israel entitled to restrict its immigration policies. Similarly, no rule of international law obligates a state to grant legal status to nationals of other nations or entities when such nations or entities are in a state of armed conflict or war with that state and when there exists a genuine threat that they would pose a danger to the security of the state and its citizens.

The ongoing armed conflict between Israel and the Palestinians since September 2000 has led, inter alia, to the frequent commission of suicide bombings inside Israel. A growing involvement in this conflict has been noted on the part of Palestinians originally from the territories, who carry Israeli identity cards, given pursuant to procedures of family unification with Israeli citizens or residents. In so doing, such Palestinians abuse their legal status in Israel, which allows them free movement between Palestinian Authority territories and Israel.

In order to prevent such potential danger, the Government decided in May 2002 to temporarily suspend the granting of legal status in Israel, including through family unification. The decision does not apply to persons who have already been granted legal status in Israel or to those who had applied for such status prior to the Governments decision. This decision does not discriminate between Israeli citizens and residents, as it applies to all. It also does not prevent Arab citizens of Israel from uniting in Israel with Palestinian spouses from other countries. The restriction applies only vis-a-vis residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, for all the reasons set out above.

This decision has been consolidated into law in the Citizenship and Entry Into Israel Law (Temporary Provision), 2003. This law will be in force for one year only, during which it will be possible to grant permits or licenses to reside or to remain in Israel for pre-determined periods, for the purposes of work, medical treatment, or any other temporary purpose not exceeding a total of six months.

The law enables the extension of licenses and residence permits in Israel granted to and applied for by residents of the territories prior to the Government decision.

The approach adopted in the new legislation accords with accepted international law and practice and does not contravene international human rights treaties.