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After a nearly decade-long effort, US finally approves Israel's entry into coveted Visa Waiver program

Statement comes days after Israel's foreign minister was rebuked for making a 'premature' statement

Passengers at the Ben Gurion International Airport, Oct. 31, 2021. (Photo: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Israel completed the admission process to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP), the U.S. State Department announced on Wednesday, adding that the move further strengthened ties between the two countries.

“Israel’s entry into the Visa Waiver Program represents a critical step forward in our strategic partnership with Israel that will further strengthen long-standing people-to-people engagement, economic cooperation, and security coordination between our two countries,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

“Israel is now the 41st member of the Visa Waiver Program. This important achievement represents a critical step forward in our strategic partnership that will enhance freedom of movement for U.S. citizens,” Blinken added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the decision.

“We have worked on this for many years, close to a decade, even more so in the last year when we passed extensive legislation in the Knesset, legislation that enabled the legal basis for this move,” he said.

“Those who want to visit the USA will no longer have to wait months just to get an appointment,” Netanyahu said, thanking U.S. President Joe Biden, Blinken, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas, and former U.S. Ambassador Tom Nides.

The VWP enables most citizens or nationals of participating countries to travel to the United States as a tourist or on business for stays of up to 90 days without the need to first obtain a visa. Israelis are currently required to go through a lengthy visa application process, even for tourism purposes.

One of the last hurdles for Israel to be admitted into the VWP was the easing of the travel restrictions for Palestinians who possess U.S. citizenship. Those restrictions were lifted in July.

Palestinian Americans are now able to travel to and across Israel for up to 90 days, including via Ben-Gurion International Airport, the main international hub in Tel Aviv

On Monday, the United States slammed Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen for announcing that Israel had completed all the steps necessary to enter the VWP, calling the announcement “premature.

Officials at the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Israel were reportedly fuming about Cohen’s announcement.

“To announce before us a decision that we are supposed to announce, that touches on our national security in order to receive some doubtful credit – that’s some nerve,” U.S. officials told their Israeli colleagues, according to Israel’s Channel 12 news.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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