Nov 24, 10:46 AM EST

Israel leader vows to pass nationality law


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JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel's prime minister vowed Monday to pass a contentious nationality law that has threatened the stability of his fragile coalition government, but he left the door open for negotiations to soften it.

The bill formally would identify Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. But language favored by hard-liners has drawn racism accusations, been questioned by Israel's attorney general and prompted the justice minister to warn that the coalition could fall apart.

Addressing members of his Likud Party, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was determined to pass it.

"I have to say that this bill and the proposals ... are expressing the fact that Israel is the national state of the Jewish people and only theirs, alongside preserving the rights of every single citizen of the state of Israel," Netanyahu said.

Israel's declaration of independence in 1948 defined the country as both Jewish and democratic. The new legislation seeks to enshrine these principles as a Basic Law, Israel's de facto constitution.

But elements of the proposal have raised concerns. Among the proposals are making Jewish law a source of legislative inspiration and delisting Arabic as an official language.

"That will endanger really the very sensitive relationship between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority inside Israel," said Ibrahim Sarsour, an Arab lawmaker.

Israeli officials said they were working toward delaying a vote, scheduled Wednesday, for another week. Netanyahu said he was open to further discussion.

The centrist members of his coalition, Hatnuah and Yesh Atid, have vowed to oppose the measure.

Earlier, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, leader of Hatnuah, warned that the bill's passage could topple Netanyahu's coalition and force early elections. Livni also said that if Netanyahu wanted to punish her for refusing to back the law, it could lead to the fall of his government.

Debate over the nationality law comes amid soaring tensions between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs, who make up about 20 percent of the population of 8 million. Over the past month, Palestinian attacks have killed 11 Israelis, including five people in an attack on a Jerusalem synagogue last week.

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