Israeli leader vows to pass contentious nationality law, but parliamentary vote in doubt

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JERUSALEM — 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 his Likud Party, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was determined to pass it.

The bill is "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.

A parliamentary vote scheduled for Wednesday was postponed for a week to allow time for a compromise proposal.

The centrist members of Netanyahu's coalition, Hatnuah and Yesh Atid, have vowed to oppose the measure in its current form. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, leader of Hatnuah, warned that the bill's passage could topple Netanyahu's coalition and force early elections.

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. The latest attack took place Monday, as an Arab assailant stabbed a Jewish man outside the old city of Jerusalem, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. Rosenfeld described the assault as a terror attack and said the victim was taken to a hospital.

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