The Israeli cabinet on Sunday approved a racist bill which would compel all new citizens to swear allegiance to Israel as ‘a Jewish and democratic state,’ a government statement said.
Twenty-two ministers voted in favour of the proposal, which must still win the approval of parliament before becoming law, including most of Likud, Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu deputies.
Eight ministers were opposed, five of them from the Labour Party and three of them – Benny Begin, Dan Meridor and Michael Eitan – from Likud.
Israeli daily Haaretz reported that the divided cabinet spent hours deliberating Justice Minister Ya’akov Ne’eman’s proposed amendment to the Law of Citizenship.
Amid the debate on the matter, Ne’eman himself suggested changing the wording of the draft to apply to Jews and non-Jews alike.
Defence Minister and Labour Party Chairman Ehud Barak said on Sunday that he would vote against the proposal unless the cabinet agreed to include in the draft an allusion to Israel’s so-called Declaration of Independence.
Neither of those amendments was included in the final draft passed by cabinet.
As the cabinet began its deliberations on Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reiterated his support for the proposal.
He claimed: ‘The State of Israel is the national state of the Jewish people and it is a democratic state for all its citizenship.
‘Jews and non-Jews enjoy equality and full rights.
‘Democracy is the soul of Israel and we cannot do without it.
‘No one can preach democracy or enlightenment to us,’ Netanyahu said.
‘Zionism established an exemplary national state, a state that balances between the national needs of our people and the individual rights or every citizen in the country.’
Critics of the proposal question the democracy of forcing non-Jews to swear allegiance to a Jewish state.
The bill will primarily affect Israel’s Palestinian minority as Jewish immigrants to Israel usually enter on the state’s Jewish Law of Return.
Around twenty per cent of Israel’s population are non-Jewish Arabs.
Palestinian National Initiative leader Mustafa Barghouthi said the move was ‘the last straw in the consolidation of a racist, apartheid system in Israel’.
He described the law as ‘an official declaration of apartheid.’
During peace talks in Washington last month, Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas refused Israel’s request to recognise it as a ‘Jewish state’, saying that it would forfeit the right of return of Palestinian refugees, a final status issue in negotiations.
Further, he said it would threaten the civil rights of Palestinians living inside Israel.
Negotiations have reached a deadlock over Netanyahu’s refusal to stop building settlements on Palestinian land.
At an Arab League summit in Libya on Saturday, Abbas said the international community realised the ‘absurdity’ of continuing to negotiate with Israel while it expanded settlements and unilaterally imposed borders.
Meanwhile, on Sunday the leader of Israel’s main opposition Kadima party came out in favour of an extension of the freeze on settlement building in an interview with Israeli television.
Tzipi Livni said: ‘For as long as I thought that it was possible to negotiate a peace agreement without paying the price of a freeze, I stayed silent.
‘But today I think that the time has come to criticise the Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on this point.’
The government should accept the US proposal to extend the moratorium on settlement building that ended on September 26, Livni stressed.
Hamas issued the following statement on Saturday: ‘We in Hamas consider the decision of the Arab Follow-Up Committee to refrain from engaging in negotiations amid settlement activity to be insufficient.
‘There is no benefit in giving the United States yet another opportunity or another month to bring about a change in the Zionist stand, as it will only be a further waste of time.
‘The conduct of the negotiations has validated the futility of relying on the US administration, which is incapable of clinging to its positions.
‘It continuously backtracked in face of the intransigence and arrogance of Netanyahu and his extreme government.
‘Therefore, any additional opportunities offered to the US administration are tantamount to more US pressure on the Palestinian and Arab positions and more US guarantees and enticements to the Zionist entity.
‘What is required now is a Palestinian and Arab position that can confront and decisively end the futile negotiations, both direct and indirect, and not just stop the negotiations while counting on them being resumed.
‘We at Hamas urge to crystalise and adopt a new Palestinian-Arab strategy based on the resistance programme, and to support and bolster the steadfastness of the Palestinian people, adhere to national rights and constants and on this basis, unite the Palestinian ranks.
l The sale by the United States of 20 F-35 fighter jets to Israel poses a threat to security in the Middle East, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem warned on Friday.
‘The agreement to buy F-35 planes signed by Israel seriously threatens stability and security in the region,’ Muallem told reporters in Sirte, Libya where Arab foreign ministers were meeting.
He said: ‘We are told that Netanyahu will announce a two-month freeze on settlements, provided this issue is not raised again, and obtain in exchange a deal for very sophisticated arms.
‘The question is no longer a two-month settlement freeze, but rather a threat to Arab security.’
Officials in Washington announced on Thursday that Israel signed the contract for the 20 fighter jets after the United States offered ‘incentives’ for the Jewish state to help sputtering peace talks.