Clarification about the Revocation of the "Center of Life" Policy by the Israeli Interior Ministry
The announcement by Interior Minister Natan Sharansky (17 October 1999) that Israel was rescinding the "center of life" policy, has generated considerable speculation about the status of Palestinian residency in Jerusalem. While details about the change in policy remain unclear - the Interior Ministry has yet to release an official statement - BADIL Resource Center raises the following issues for clarification based on existing information.
1. Revocation of the "center of life" policy should not be equated with a cessation of Israel's policy of ID card confiscation in Jerusalem. Prior to the introduction of the "center of life" policy in 1995, approximately 110 ID cards were confiscated annually by the Interior Ministry (although the Ministry acknowledges the data between 1967 and 1995 is incomplete). This rate increased six-fold on average between 1995 and 1998. Approximately 2,800 ID cards were confiscated from 1995 until April 1999, affecting some 11,200 persons (the average Palestinian family in the West Bank consists of 5.7 persons according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics; given that many of the persons affected by ID card confiscated may be living abroad, a conservative family size of 4 is used). Interior Ministry data through the end of 1999 will provide some indication about the impact of the new policy on Palestinian residency rights.
2. Reinstatement of confiscated ID cards remains uncertain. It is not clear whether confiscated ID cards will be automatically reinstated or whether Palestinians must reapply for Jerusalem residency. In the latter case, the criteria for the reinstatement of residency is not known by the general public. In addition, if confiscated ID cards are to be reinstated, it remains unclear whether reinstatement will apply retroactive to 1995 when the "center of life" policy was introduced, or prior to 1995.
3. The change in policy does not include a change in Israeli law. The announced changes do not include changes to the Entry into Israel Regulations under which Palestinian residency may be revoked by the Interior Ministry according to three criteria: 1) if a permanent resident lives outside of Israel for 7 years, 2) acquires permanent residency in a second country, or 3) acquires citizenship in a second country. Palestinian Jerusalemites who live outside of Jerusalem, including the West Bank, for seven consecutive years without renewing their residency status, or fall under conditions 2 and 3, remain at risk of losing their residency rights in Jerusalem under Israeli law.
4. Implementation remains at the discretion of the Interior Minister. Without any change in law, implementation of the new policy remains at the discretion of the Interior Minister and his employees in the Ministry. Whoever controls the Interior Ministry may thus interpret Palestinian residency as they see fit.
5. Palestinian residency in Jerusalem remains insecure - a "privilege" but not a right. Unlike Jewish inhabitants of Jerusalem, Palestinian Jerusalemites continue to be regarded as foreigners in their hometown, even though they may have lived in Jerusalem for generations. Under the new policy, Palestinians must still demonstrate an "appropriate connection" (family ties and periodic visits) to Jerusalem to maintain the "privilege" of living in their hometown. Israel continues to refuse to recognize the right of Palestinians to live in Jerusalem. Given the uncertainties about the new policy, BADIL calls upon the Israeli Interior Ministry to public clarify and disseminate information about the new policy and its implementation. While the revocation of the "center of life" policy may reduce the rate of ID card confiscation in Jerusalem, Palestinian rights in Jerusalem, including residency rights, will only be secured if the status of Palestinian Jerusalemites is addressed according to international law and UN resolutions.