JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will push for legislation to require those wanting to become Israeli citizens to pledge loyalty to the “nation-state of the Jewish people,” an Israeli official said on Wednesday.
Under Israeli law, Jews wanting to immigrate to Israel are granted automatic citizenship and non-Jews have to take a loyalty oath to the “state of Israel.”
The amendment would win favor with one of Netanyahu’s key coalition partners, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who leads the right-wing Israel our Home party.
Lieberman has advocated a loyalty oath to the Jewish state for all Israelis, including Arab citizens who make up some 20 percent of the population.
The announcement came as Netanyahu seeks to avert the collapse of newly launched peace talks with the Palestinians.
Begun just a month ago, the U.S.-sponsored talks plunged into crisis last week when a 10-month Israeli moratorium on building new houses in West Bank Jewish settlements expired.
Netanyahu has so far refused to extend the partial freeze on construction and the Palestinians have threatened to pull out of the direct negotiations unless Israel extends the freeze.
Lieberman has made no secret of his doubts about a Middle East peace deal with Palestinians, saying at the United Nations last week that it could “take decades.”
His party, known as Yisrael Beiteinu in Hebrew, opposes any further concessions to the Palestinians on settlement building.
The U.S. has offered Netanyahu a package of incentives to put before his cabinet to help him persuade them to extend the freeze by 60 days, including security guarantees and increased military aid.
Netanyahu’s proposal appeared to be designed to win the backing of pro-settler coalition partners like Israel our Home to extend the settlement freeze, which expired on September 26.
Israeli media interpreted the proposal as a victory for Lieberman. “Victory for Israel’s right as ‘Jewish state’ loyalty oath nears vote,” read the top headline on the website of the Haaretz daily newspaper.
The popular Ynet news Web site headlined: “Netanyahu to ask approval for: ‘No loyalty, no citizenship,’” referring to a slogan used by Lieberman’s party during the election campaign.
The amendment would require non-Jews to pledge loyalty to the “democratic nation-state of the Jewish people,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“The state of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. This principle guides the government’s policy and it is a cornerstone of Israeli law,” the official quoted Netanyahu as saying at a meeting behind closed doors to discuss the issue.
“It is therefore logical that this principle appears in the loyalty oath taken by individuals wanting to become citizens of Israel,” Netanyahu said.
The official said Netanyahu would ask his government on Sunday to approve the amendment, which must be passed in parliament before it becomes law.
Netanyahu has said the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish nation-state as part of any future peace deal for the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
The Palestinians have rejected Netanyahu’s call to recognize Israel as a Jewish nation-state.
“The logic is, we must demand from ourselves what Israel is asking others to recognize,” the Israeli official said.
Editing by Charles Dick