update deskU.S.-Israel Relations

‘Israeli bid for US visa waiver hinges on pilot for Palestinian Americans’

The month-long pilot program is due to start this week.

Check-in at Ben-Gurion Airport, July 7, 2022. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Check-in at Ben-Gurion Airport, July 7, 2022. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.

Israelis’ chances of joining the United States Visa Waiver Program hinge on a month-long trial period during which Israeli authorities will offer free passage to Palestinian Americans who are residents of Judea and Samaria, a report claimed on Wednesday.

According to Reuters, the pilot program is due to start on Thursday. If the test proceeds smoothly, Israeli citizens be able to visit the U.S. without a visa as of October, diplomatic sources cited by the press agency said.

A U.S. State Department and Homeland Security Department delegation will observe operations during the trial, with inspections at Ben-Gurion Airport and crossings into the Judea and Samaria region, Reuters’ sources added.

The officials will reportedly monitor whether Arab Americans are subjected to “selective grilling” by border control officers. One source said that while Israel would bar travelers considered a security threat, it had no plans to ban Americans who support the boycott campaign against the Jewish state.

The Israeli National Security Council declined to comment on the matter.

The current round of negotiations with regard to the Visa Waiver Program was launched by then-Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked during the Bennett-Lapid government but is now being led by National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi. 

Hanegbi said in response to an Israel Hayom inquiry earlier this month that over the past six months, Israel has met all requirements, and from a professional standpoint, nothing stands in its way to join the program. 

He said that following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s instructions, all state authorities worked in a coordinated manner so that Israelis would be exempt from the need for a visa to visit the U.S.

“The Knesset committees, especially the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, passed complex legislation on an unprecedented schedule. U.S. Ambassador Tom Nides acted in an exceptional manner with us, and without him, we would not have had a chance to reach where we are,” the national security adviser said.

“Now the decision lies with the political echelon in the U.S. government: the Secretary of State [Antony] Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security [Alejandro] Mayorkas,” Hanegbi stated at the time.

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