Israel blocks renewal of law that keeps out Palestinian spouses

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Prime Minister Naftali Bennett

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s parliament early on Tuesday failed to renew a law that bars Arab citizens from extending citizenship or residency rights to spouses from the occupied West Bank and Gaza, in a tight vote that raised doubts about the viability of the country’s new coalition government.

The 59-59 vote, which came after an all-night session of the Knesset, marked a major setback for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

The new Israeli leader, who had hoped to find a compromise between his hard-line Yamina party and the dovish factions in his disparate coalition, instead suffered a stinging defeat in a vote he reportedly described as a referendum on the new government. The vote means the law is now set to expire at midnight Tuesday.

“The opposition last night delivered a direct blow to the security of the country,” Bennett said Tuesday, accusing his opponents, including former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, of choosing “petty politics” over the nation’s wellbeing.

The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law was enacted as a temporary measure in 2003, at the height of the second intifada, or uprising, when Palestinians launched scores of deadly attacks inside Israel. Proponents said Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza were susceptible to recruitment by armed groups and that security vetting alone was insufficient.

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