Israeli officials notified their U.S. counterparts last week that it will begin easing restrictions for Palestinian-Americans at Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport.
While there is no specific regulation banning Palestinian-Americans from entering Israel, in reality, many such travelers are denied entry or must endure long, invasive security examinations by Israel’s security agency, Shin Bet, when they land. For this reason, Palestinian-Americans often fly first into Amman, Jordan and then enter the West Bank via the Israeli-controlled Allenby Crossing.
There was no specific information as to how Israel plans to implement the new process that would more easily allow U.S. citizens of Palestinian heritage to enter Israel. A senior Israeli official clarified that the policy does not include an easier entry for thousands of Palestinians who have both U.S. citizenship and Palestinian ID cards.
The decision to lighten restrictions for Palestinian-Americans who want to enter Israel is part of the government's longstanding ambition to be included in the United States’ Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Improved treatment of U.S. citizens of Palestinian descent seeking to fly into Israel has been a key demand of the U.S. in VWP negotiations, according to one Israeli senior official.
In October, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas announced that the U.S. was in the process of considering the addition of four countries to its visa waiver program, including Israel.
In order to participate in the visa waiver program, the requesting country must meet several requirements related to counterterrorism, immigration and security border management. For Israel to be eligible, it would be required to reduce its visa refusal rate – which was roughly 4.5% in August – to below 3% by October 2022.
In addition, Israel would be obligated to give U.S. authorities access to Israeli criminal records, which would require Knesset approval.
Israel's inclusion on the U.S. VWP list would be a significant development for Israeli citizens, who would then be allowed to travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days without the need to first obtain a travel visa. Getting a visa to the U.S. entails an application process that may drag on for some months since it includes scheduling an appointment at the overbooked U.S. Embassy in Israel for a background check and interview. When a candidate’s visa is approved, that person is still obligated to submit their passport to the embassy and wait for the document to be returned, a process that can take several weeks longer.
During his time in office, former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Gilad Erdan was instrumental in bringing Israel closer to eligibility for the U.S. VWP after discovering roadblocks in the negotiations. Following the meeting in August, President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett he had instructed his staff to advance the efforts to get Israel added to the VWP.
Just last month, Israel’s Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said a U.S. delegation was scheduled to visit Israel in January “with the goal of obtaining visa-free entry by the end of 2022.”
If Israel were to be approved, it would make the Jewish state the 40th country added to the VWP list.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.