U.S. Official: Easing West Bank Entry for Palestinian Americans Unrelated to Israeli Visa Waivers

Although the Israeli media drew a connection between calls from progressive Democrats to remove barriers for Palestinian citizens of the U.S. for visiting the West Bank and the visa waiver program for Israelis, an official says these are 'two different policy requests'

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
Crowds at Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport, in April.
Crowds at Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport, in April.Credit: Moti Milrod
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Washington’s demand that Israel make it easier for Palestinian Americans to travel to the West Bank is unrelated to Israel’s efforts to join America’s visa waiver program, a senior U.S. Embassy official said Tuesday.

Israeli officials have recently claimed that this is in fact an unofficial condition for joining the visa waiver program, but the U.S. official said that these two issues are unrelated. “These are two different policy requests," he said.

Two weeks ago, in the run-up to U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel, senior progressive Democratic lawmakers urged the administration to keep Israel out of the program due to what they described as its discriminatory treatment of Palestinians with U.S. citizenship seeking to visit the West Bank.

In a series of letters, more than a dozen lawmakers complained about the stringent regulations promulgated by Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. Media outlets then drew a connection between Israel’s entry into the visa waiver program and Washington’s demand that Israel ease its entry policy for Palestinian Americans.

The Knesset’s impending dissolution, which is expected to pass in parliament next week, may well pose additional obstacles to Israel’s inclusion in the program. To join it, Israel must enact two laws authorizing the U.S. authorities to receive information about Israelis seeking to enter the United States – one for criminal information and one for security information. It is unclear whether Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, who is leading this effort, has managed to garner enough support from the various parties to pass these laws even during the election campaign.

This is not the only obstacle; the basic condition for joining the visa waiver program is for the embassy to have rejected fewer than 3 percent of visa applications over the last two years. The data on this metric will not be released for another few months. Even though this is an ambitious target, senior officials in both Jerusalem and Washington believe it can be met. The senior embassy official said Israel’s bid to join the program “has progressed more in the last six months than it has in all the previous years put together.”

If Israel ultimately joins the program, Israelis will be able to enter the United States for up to 90 days without a visa. They will merely need an electronic entry permit – essentially, a QR code. However, students, journalists, people with jobs there or anyone seeking to stay in the country for more than 90 days will still have to obtain a visa even after Israel enters the program.

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