More Palestinians in Yerushalayim Seek Israeli Citizenship

YERUSHALAYIM (AP) -

More Palestinians in east Yerushalayim are applying for Israeli citizenship in hopes of swapping their vulnerable status as mere city residents for the rights and ease of travel that come with an Israeli passport.

But after long touting its offer of citizenship to them, Israel is now dragging its feet in granting it, those who track Palestinian applicants say. Lawyers said their Palestinian clients now wait months for an appointment with the Interior Ministry and an average of three years for a decision.

Israeli officials denied they were trying to discourage applications through stalling tactics, saying delays resulted from a rise in the number of requests.

The citizenship debate reflects the unsettled status of Yerushalayim’s 330,000 Palestinians — who make up 37 percent of the city’s population. Over 200,000 Jewish Israelis now live in east Yerushalayim.

The vast majority of these Palestinians have city residency documents, allowing them to work and move about, but aren’t citizens of any country. For travel abroad, they use temporary documents issued by Israel or Jordan.

Asking for an Israeli passport still carries the stigma of implied acceptance of Israeli control, and only about 15,000 Palestinians have requested one since 2003; of those, fewer than 6,000 were reportedly approved.

Still, there has been a rise in applications. In 2016, a peak year, 1,081 families submitted applications, compared to 69 in 2003, 547 in 2008 and 704 in 2013, the Interior Ministry said.

According to figures first published on the Times of Israel news site in September, the processing of requests has slowed dramatically since 2014. Out of more than 4,000 individual applications, only 84 were approved, 161 were rejected and the rest were pending.

Israel’s Interior Ministry blamed a heavier work load.

“There hasn’t been any slowing in the review process, but there are a growing number of applications every year,” said spokeswoman Sabine Haddad.