According to several reports, Israel is now making moves to streamline and shorten the process for Arab residents of East Jerusalem to receive their citizenship. The goal is to shorten this process down from its four-six year process (at best), down to one year. Ever since Israel had captured East Jerusalem during the Six-Day War back in 1967 and also claimed sovereignty in East Jerusalem too, it has been offering residents who are living in that region with the option to apply for Israeli citizenship. Until around a decade ago, very few applied for Israeli citizenship because the majority identified as Palestinian. The process of naturalization for East Jerusalemites, when they are successful, can take an average of more than four years, even as many as six. Also, to receive an appointment to start the process can take up to three years.
Currently, there are more than 350,000 Arab East Jerusalemites, and they account for roughly 37 percent of the capital’s population. As permanent residents, they pay taxes and they are also entitled to receive state benefits such as healthcare and social security. However, they face some restrictions such as being unable to vote in national elections, applying for an Israeli passport, or to run for mayor in their city.
Historically, approximately half of East Jerusalemites have their citizenship applications rejected. Applications are usually rejected because the applicants either cannot prove that they live in East Jerusalem, cannot show Hebrew fluency, or they fail to receive a recommendation by security authorities. In the last five years, East Jerusalem residents had filed 4,908 requests for citizenship, of which 54% were approved.
According to The Times of Israel, between 2014 and September 2016, the processing of citizenship applications for thousands of East Jerusalemites had almost come to a complete stop. During that period of time, of the 4,152 East Jerusalemites who had applied for citizenship, only 116 were approved and 161 were rejected. The remainder of the applications were still pending and were yet to be processed.
According to a report in the Haaretz daily, Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority (PIBA) has promised to make notable changes to these citizenship processes. Hagit Tzur, who is the head of PIBA’s East Jerusalem bureau, announced that a new office has been introduced in Qalandiya in northern Jerusalem and that it will contain eight new service booths in addition to the 12 currently available. According to reports, Tzur also said that 12 more service booths would be opened in the upcoming months at a new National Insurance Institute building located in East Jerusalem.
This news is in line with other countries around the world who are also streamlining their citizenship processes, such as Canada’s Express Entry program, Dominica’s Dominica citizenship by investment program, the UK’s Residency By Investment program, among others.
The Interior Ministry will also for the very first time be allowing East Jerusalem residents to receive partial services in offices in the city’s west. PIBA has also reportedly told the High Court that it is committed to dramatically reducing the wait times, saying that all citizenship requests filed in 2016 will be dealt with by April and that all requests filed in 2017 will also be dealt with by July. Whereas all 2018 applications will be decided by the end of the year. In addition, all 2019 requests are to be ruled on in 2020, while some potentially problematic requests are already in the process of being dealt with.