Growing Number of E. Jerusalem Palestinians Seek Israeli Citizenship

August 04,2015

WASHINGTON— Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have long rejected the option of full Israeli citizenship, seeing it as a betrayal to their political cause - the formation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But as that dream remains elusive, more and more Palestinians are applying for Israeli citizenship.

Palestinians seeking Israeli citizenship usually say they do not have a choice.

"I have a bad feeling because I prefer to have the passport of my country as a Jerusalemite, as a Palestinian, so I should have a Palestinian passport. But unfortunately I cannot get one. Instead, I got something that will only connect me more to Jerusalem," said a Palestinian teacher, who asked not to be identified.

While some Palestinians say that full-fledged citizenship enables them to get better jobs and more benefits, others disagree.

"For someone that has children, expenses, a house and a shop and all these things, the citizenship could never help. If they give us a passport and take away our IDs, it is the same for me,” said Ghassan Nofal, an East Jerusalem resident.

It is not all about benefits. The suburban Jerusalem homes of some Palestinians got separated from the rest of the city by an Israeli concrete wall built ten years ago after a rash of suicide bombings. Those Palestinians fear they may lose Jerusalem residency.

Interior Ministry figures obtained by the Reuters news agency show that there were 1,434 passport applications for the year 2012-2013, of which 189 have been approved. Most of the rest are still being processed.

"We are indeed witnessing an increase in the number of East Jerusalemites who have permanent residency status in the state of Israel who are seeking Israeli citizenship. The question of how big this increase is - is debatable," said Amnon Ramon, a researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies.

Palestinian officials pushing for a state that would include the territory of East Jerusalem are concerned.

"There is a big risk that if the situation continues, what will the Palestinians negotiate about? They want to negotiate about land - they already lost the land. They want to negotiate for the population and the population is being lost," said Khalil Tafakji, a former member of the Palestinian negotiating team.

The demographic impact could be even wider, they say, when one considers that the children of those who become Israeli are born Israeli citizens. Officials in Jerusalem deny that the demographics will affect Israel's negotiations with Palestinians.