In the first gesture of its kind in 12 years, Israel has granted residency status to 4,000 undocumented Palestinians living in the West Bank.
“The move is part of my policy to strengthen the economy and improve the lives of Palestinians in Judea and Samaria,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz tweeted Tuesday.
He had promised Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, when they met in August, that he would legalize the status of a small number of Palestinians out of what is estimated to be well over 30,000 people who are in a similar predicament.
At issue are Palestinians who live in all areas of the West Bank, but who lack PA identification papers because Israel has not signed off on such paperwork since 2009.
The PA registers the birth of Palestinians born in the West Bank in the population registry that it controls and issues identification papers to residents under its auspices, including in Area C of the West Bank, which is under Israeli military and civilian control.
Israel has not involved itself in that process.
Palestinians who move to the West Bank either from the Gaza Strip or abroad, however, must have their residency status approved by Israel before they can be listed in the PA’s population registry.
This would include instances of family reunification, such as for spouses of Palestinian residents of the West Bank who originated from elsewhere or Palestinian children born outside of the region. Most of the Palestinians in question are either from Gaza or Jordan.
Foreign nationals who marry Palestinians or who have moved to the West Bank also need Israeli approval to obtain residency status.
Since 2000, Israel has largely refused to grant residency status to Palestinians who move to the West Bank.
In 2007, under the tenure of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, Israel agreed to weigh 50,000 residency requests, ultimately approving 23,000 of them, according to the left-wing NGO HaMoked, which advocates on behalf of Palestinians in such cases. Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu halted such approvals; Gantz has now made a rare exception to the Israeli ban on such residency requests.
Among those whose status had been legalized were 2,800 Palestinians who had relocated to the West Bank from Gaza before 2007, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said.
“Every request is thoroughly examined, and approvals are subject to the agreement, on security grounds, of the relevant security offices in Israel,” COGAT said. “The Palestinians in all” 4,000 cases “have been in the Judea and Samaria area for many years.”
Gantz said at issue were Palestinians “who have been in Judea and Samaria for many years but for various reasons were not eligible for documentation.”
Both the Israeli Left and Right attacked Gantz for granting 4,000 Palestinians legal status.
HaMoked executive director Jessica Montell said the move did not even begin to address the issue.
“Israel controls the [PA] population registry, and it is obligated to enable people to live with their families,” she said. “It can’t absolve itself from its legal obligation to the whole population with this small diplomatic gesture.”
The Right warned Gantz that he had endangered Israel’s future as a Jewish nation.
Gantz has moved Israel 10 degrees forward in the direction of the “post-Zionist era,” Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich said.
“This government is irresponsible and dangerous for the future of the State of Israel,” he said.
MK Yuli Edelstein (Likud) warned that this move would lead to a third Oslo Accord and the division of Jerusalem.
“The Right must wake up and emerge from its stupor,” he said.
“Gantz and Meretz are doing whatever they please,” and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is just a puppet in their hands,” he added.
“I will use all the parliamentary tools at my disposal to stop this dangerous move,” Edelstein said.
“I demand to understand how such a decision was made without any discussion,” he said. “I demand answers, and I demand serious supervision. We must stop the rampage of the Left.”
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.