JERUSALEM (Aug. 23)
The Israeli government has announced policy changes that will enable increased numbers of Palestinians to return to their homes in the administered territories.
As a result of the policy change, Palestinians will have greater ease in meeting the criteria needed to obtain family reunification permits.
The changes came as a result of petitions filed by Arab residents in the territories to the High Court of Justice.
The appellants had wanted the court to intervene on their behalf to compel the state to allow the return of their relatives to the territories.
The government also attributed the new, liberalized family reunification policy to discussions during the round of bilateral peace negotiations that ended in Washington on July 1.
The new policy will allow the return of some 6,000 Palestinians to their homes in the territories, according to government estimates.
Under the new criteria, permanent resident status will be granted to spouses of residents of the territories and their children who, during the past three years, lived here under temporary visas that had to be renewed every six months.
In another liberalization of its policy, the government will double the number of family reunification permits issued each year, from 1,000 to 2,000.
Until now, marital ties were not a sufficient prerequisite for permanent resident status.
Under the new policy, most of the quotas established for family reunifications will be filled by spouses of current residents in the territories.
The Cabinet agreed this week on another measure that is designed to improve the quality of life in the territories.
It decided on an across-the-board cut of 0.27 percent in the government budget. The monies saved will be used to fund the employment of 15,000 laborers in the Gaza Strip.
This decision is in line with the continued policy of trying to supply Arab laborers with work opportunities within the territories, thus cutting down the number of permits given to those who are seeking work in Israel proper.
Of the approximately 120,000 laborers who used to work in Israel before a general closure of the territories was declared last March, fewer than half have returned to their workplaces within Israel.