Israel Picks Up Pace, Grants Citizenship to 1,200 East Jerusalem Palestinians

Around 1,200 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem received Israeli citizenship last year, the largest number since Israel captured the eastern half of the city in 1967. The number of citizenship applications that were rejected also rose sharply in 2019.

Both increases stemmed from the fact that the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority has sped up its handling of such applications following criticism of its slow pace by the High Court of Justice.

– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 56

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 56Haaretz

East Jerusalem Palestinians received permanent residency from Israel in 1967 and 95 percent of them still have that status. As permanent residents, they have no passports and no right to vote in Knesset elections, and they can lose their social security benefits or even their residency if the state suspects that the center of their life is in the West Bank rather than Israel.

In principle, any East Jerusalem Palestinian can apply for citizenship. Few do so, and even fewer receive it.

Due to socioeconomic changes in East Jerusalem, more Palestinians have sought citizenship over the past decade. Since 2009, there have been 800 to 1,000 new applications annually, but only about 400 Palestinians a year have received citizenship.

The Population Authority invokes many reasons for refusing citizenship, including insufficient knowledge of Hebrew, suspicion that the applicant’s center of life isn’t in Israel (for instance, if the applicant owns property in the West Bank) or a close relationship with someone involved in terrorism. Moreover, the process is both long and expensive; applicants must produce countless documents and usually need a lawyer’s help.

After the High Court repeatedly criticized the authority in recent years for its slow handling of citizenship applications, the authority committed to address all applications submitted since 2016 by the end of 2019. As a result, the number of approved applications more than tripled, from 362 in 2018 to 1,200 last year. But the number of rejections rose more, from 340 in 2018 to 1,361 last year.