Nov 23, 9:14 AM EST

Israeli Cabinet approves nationality bill


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JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel's Cabinet has approved a contentious bill that officially defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

The bill still needs to be passed in parliament to become a law, but Sunday's vote looks to further inflame tensions with Arab Israelis and Palestinians. It could also shake up Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government due to the fierce opposition of two of his more centrist partners.

The bill calls for recognizing Israel's Jewish character, institutionalizing Jewish law as an inspiration for legislation, and delisting Arabic as an official language. Opponents say the bill undermines Israel's democratic character, and rights groups have called it racist.

Arabs make up about 20 percent of Israel's population and strongly oppose the bill.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

The Israeli government on Sunday called for new hard-line measures, including a proposal to strip Palestinian attackers of their residency rights, in response to a wave of deadly violence.

The measures were billed as a deterrent, but critics view them as racist policies that could further escalate tensions.

In Gaza, meanwhile, Palestinian health officials said a 32-year-old farmer was shot dead by Israeli troops after he approached the border. Israel's military said it fired warning shots before shooting at two suspects approaching the border, hitting one of them in his lower body. It would be the first fatality in Gaza since a cease-fire ended last summer's war.

Israel has vowed to respond harshly after a raid on a Jerusalem synagogue last week in which two east Jerusalem Palestinians killed five people with guns and meat cleavers. Israel has already resumed a controversial policy of demolishing Palestinian attackers' homes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Sunday for a bill that would revoke residency rights for Palestinians involved in attacks against Israelis.

"It cannot be that those who harm Israel, those who call for the destruction of the state of Israel will enjoy rights like social security," Netanyahu told his Cabinet, adding that the measure would "complement" the house demolitions.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in 1967 and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. While few of the city's 300,000 Palestinians have taken citizenship, their residency grants them access to social services and freedom of movement.

The Cabinet was also discussing a bill that would recognize Israel's Jewish character, institutionalize Jewish law as an inspiration for legislation, and delist Arabic as an official language.

Tensions spilled over to the West Bank Sunday when a Palestinian family's home was torched in an attack they blamed on Jewish settlers. Israeli police said they were investigating.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for an Israeli mayor who suspended work by Arab laborers over the violence said they will resume building bomb shelters in kindergartens next week, but that children would be moved to other locations in the city of Ashkelon during the construction.

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