Palestinians Seeking Israeli Citizenship

As the reality of Palestinian autonomy takes hold, with a permanent division of Jerusalem a likely outcome, thousands of Palestinians are applying for Israeli citizenship.

Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem calling to set up an appointment with the Interior Ministry to apply for an Israeli citizenship will discover the next available interview date is only in April.

In the months leading up to the upcoming Annapolis peace conference talk of a future division of the city has prompted a staggering increase in nationalization requests by Palestinians seeking to escape life under the Palestinian Authority.

Some 250,000 Palestinians currently reside in Jerusalem. Only 12,000 of them have sought to obtain an Israeli citizenship since 1967, an average of about 300 new citizens a year. But over the past four months the Interior Ministry has registered an unprecedented 3,000 applications, primarily residents of the Arab neighborhoods unlikely to remain under Israeli sovereignty according to the political initiative currently on the agenda.

The 240,000 non-naturalized Palestinians in the city currently hold the status of permanent residents. As Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem they were also eligible to participate in the elections held by the Palestinian Authority. As accepting Israeli citizenship was viewed by many within the community as tantamount to treason, most Palestinians opted to remain permanent residents and enjoy the benefits of living under Israeli sovereignty — full welfare rights, municipal voting rights and unrestricted movement – without putting their loyalty to the Palestinian Authority into question.

Forced to chose, though, many if not most would likely prefer to remain in a thriving democracy than under the yoke of Hamas governance. As Donald Sensing points out, though, the former option likely won’t be available.

[T]he blunt fact is that Israel is not about to receive these vast numbers of Palestinians. Several officials we spoke to, including very senior persons at Israel’s Foreign Ministry, indicated clearly that they are well aware of the demographics between Jews and Arabs in and around Israel. Almost one-fourth of Israelis are Muslims. One official said clearly that because Israel is a democracy, it simply was unthinkable that its government would allow massive numbers of Palestinian Muslims to take up citizenship and ultimately vote the Jewish state out of existence.

Given that its identity as a Jewish state is the sine qua non of Israel — for which blood has been repeatedly shed over the last six decades — one would think not.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Triumph says:

    Given that its identity as a Jewish state is the sine qua non of Israel — for which blood has been repeatedly shed over the last six decades — one would think not.

    This is the grand contradiction of Israel’s stance–it purports to be democratic, but, in practice, it chooses to ignore the basic tenets of democracy. Thus, you get the apartheid logic of the occupation.

    Instead of the talk of a “two state solution,” Israelis should revisit the one-state solution proposed by such Zionist thinkers as Martin Buber. Many of the important philosophers of Zionism in the early days of Israel did not think of Zionism as being antithetical to democracy.

  2. James Joyner says:

    This is the grand contradiction of Israel’s stance–it purports to be democratic, but, in practice, it chooses to ignore the basic tenets of democracy.

    I don’t think so. A democracy is government by the citizens. Israel makes Jewishness a requirement for citizenship.

    Many of the important philosophers of Zionism in the early days of Israel did not think of Zionism as being antithetical to democracy.

    I’m not a Zionist but I understand their fears here. If the definition remains that provided by Wikipedia, “Zionism is an international political movement that supports a homeland for the Jewish People in the Land of Israel,” than one can’t have Zionism and a majority Arab Israel.

    Israel has every right to decide who gets to be a citizen and who does not. Otherwise, it ceases to be.

  3. Mike says:

    Because allowing all those Muslims into France and G.B. worked out so well w/ all those nice ghettos – the Israelis are not dumb.

  4. Triumph says:

    I don’t think so. A democracy is government by the citizens. Israel makes Jewishness a requirement for citizenship.

    Yes–just like in apartheid South Africa.

    Israel has every right to decide who gets to be a citizen and who does not. Otherwise, it ceases to be.

    Then, of course, it ceases to be what Olmert calls “a liberal democracy,” and is a theocracy.

  5. James Joyner says:

    Yes–just like in apartheid South Africa.

    There are some similarities, to be sure. Then again, South Africa ceased to be what it had always been — a modern, Western state — once the black majority got the vote. It was almost certainly just that it happened, of course, but the change was substantial. Not quite Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, to be sure, but substantial.

    Then, of course, it ceases to be what Olmert calls “a liberal democracy,” and is a theocracy.

    Well, no. Israeli is and has been a secular state. One can be a Jew (in the ethnic/cultural sense) without being Jewish (in the religious sense), after all.

  6. Triumph says:

    Then again, South Africa ceased to be what it had always been — a modern, Western state — once the black majority got the vote.

    I’m not quite sure what you mean by this. South Africa is one of the more stable countries in the world. They have a functioning multi-parti democracy, markets, a free press, protection of civil liberties, etc…

    If anything it BECAME a modern state once it embraced democracy. During apartheid, it violated basic liberal Western values! How can you be a “modern, Western state” when you systematically exclude people from political participation based on ethnicity?

    Well, no. Israeli is and has been a secular state. One can be a Jew (in the ethnic/cultural sense) without being Jewish (in the religious sense), after all.

    Sure, I grant you that. The “democratic” nature of Israel is the real canard.

    The problem discussed in the article, however, is that you have people who have lived in Jerusalem since before the Israeli invasion who could be denied citizenship. A better analogy is the US experience with Native Americans or Puerto Ricans. We invaded and conquered them and, in turn, we grant them full citizenship rights.

    Israel should do the same with regard to the occupation.

  7. Tano says:

    ” A democracy is government by the citizens. Israel makes Jewishness a requirement for citizenship.”

    That is so bizarre.
    Democracy means a government that is sustained through the consent of the governed. Excluding some segment of the category of people who are being governed, from being citizens, and thus having their consent solicited, is not consistent with democracy.

  8. There are some highly pertinent facts that some commenters seem to be overlooking.

    1. Arab citizens of Israel vote. There are Arab Members of Knesset, both Muslim and Christian. In fact, there are Knesset seats set aside for Arabs. We met with an Arab woman MK who declined to run for a reserved seat and instead enetered the general election, which she won.

    2. Don’t make too much of Israel being a “Jewish” state. This really only means about three main things. First, the Shabbat rules are generally observed on Saturday, though not strictly enough for the ultra-Orthodox and too strictly for the secular Jews. Second, most restaurants – and practically all hotel restaurants – observe kosher dining rules, though generally not the strictest set of rules. Third, and most important, being a Jewish state means it is a place where Jews can live without fear of oppression from their own government or society at large. Since this freedom was absent there and almost everywhere in the world from about 333 BC (when Alexander conquered Judea) to 1948, this is no small thing to the Jews.

    3. Don’t confuse Israel’s refusal of citizenship to the Palestinians, with few exceptions, with the lack of democracy. You may as well claim that because America hasn’t simply granted citizenship to the millions if illegal aliens already here, that America is not a democracy. Every nation has the inherent right to define its requirements for naturalization. In Israel, it’s difficult, though not impossible, for foreign non-Jews to become citizens. Which makes perfect sense in light of what it means for Israel to be a Jewish nation.

    4. I don’t hear anyone clamoring for Saudi Arabia to abandon being an Islamic state and allow immigrations of Christians, Jews, Buddhists, etc, with full rights. Why? Sauce for the goose only?

  9. Triumph says:

    Donald,

    You miss the point. These are people who have either lived in Jerusalem all of their lives or were born there during the occupation, They aren’t immigrants any more so than a Puerto Rican living in the US is an “immigrant.”

    They were living there when Israel invaded and occupied the place. In the case of parts of Jerusalem, the Palestinains are living in areas that were annexed following the Six Day War.

    In order for Israel to have any credibility as a democracy they either need to grant the people under their occupation full citizenship–like the US has done with Puerto Rico or South Africa has done with its majority population–or they can withdraw their troops from the West Bank, like the US has done in Viet Nam.

    As for Saudi Arabia–yes, they are a medieval anti-modern monarchy and are undemocratic and anachronistic. You are right–not many people clamor for democracy there–least of which are US government leaders, like Bush–whose ties to the Saudi Royal family are well-established. If Mr. “Lets Spread Democracy to the Middle East” had any credibility he would have started with the Saudis instead of his wreckless soujorn into Iraq.

  10. “wreckless”? I though a wreck is what his critics say he has wrought.

    No Japanese born during the time of US occupation of Japan was made or evejn considered a US citizen. So what’s your point?