Travel restrictions for Palestinian Americans residing in the Gaza Strip will be eased starting next month, as part of the preparations for Israel to join the United States Visa Waiver Program (VWP), Reuters reported on Monday.
The move is being seen as a pilot trial period, which also includes the easing of travel through Israel for Palestinian Americans living in the West Bank.
Until now, Gaza was not included in the pilot, which prompted protests by Palestinians and eventual calls from the United States to include the blockaded Gaza Strip.
The number of Palestinian-Americans in Gaza is between 100 and 130, Israel's VWP Project Manager Gil Bringer told Reuters.
During the pilot, this group will be able to travel to the West Bank in a special shuttle bus, cross from there into Jordan and continue to other destinations to visit family members.
Those who satisfy security criteria will be able to enter Israel with a B2 tourist visa and be allowed to fly out of Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport, Israel's main travel hub in Tel Aviv, by Sept. 15.
During the first two weeks of the pilot, around 2,500 Palestinian Americans crossed Israel's borders, with the same number entering or leaving the West Bank.
Israel will also allow Palestinian Americans living abroad who have first-degree relatives in Gaza to visit once a year for up to 90 days.
Bringer estimated that Israel would satisfy VWP criteria by the Sept. 30 deadline, enabling its citizens to enter the U.S. without the need for a visa by November.
Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog signed a U.S.-Israel memorandum of understanding on the extension of reciprocal privileges for the VWP on July 19.
I was privileged today to represent the government of Israel in signing a U.S.-Israel memorandum of understanding on the extension of reciprocal privileges in the visa waiver program. This is a significant milestone towards Israel joining the program. Thank you to everybody on… pic.twitter.com/6kLASDvJyv— Ambassador Michael Herzog (@AmbHerzog) July 19, 2023
Until now, Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza were not allowed to use Ben Gurion Airport for travel. Instead, they were forced to travel to Jordan and fly out of Amman airport.
The U.S. requires countries that take part in the VWP to extend the same travel privileges to all American citizens in the same way it does to the VWP partner countries.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.