The United States previously barred Israel from joining the Visa Waiver Program, citing its preferential treatment of some American citizens.
Israel will allow all US citizens, including Palestinian Americans living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, to enter the country in an effort to obtain visa-free travel for Israelis to the US.
The change was introduced on Thursday, after US Ambassador Tomas Nedis and Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who is currently visiting the US, signed a “reciprocity agreement” on the issue the day before, according to an Israeli statement.
Full implementation of the program will apply to any US citizen, including those with dual citizenship, and US residents of Judea and Samaria. [the occupied West Bank] and the American population in the Gaza Strip.
The United States previously barred Israel from joining the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), citing its preferential treatment of certain American citizens.
US officials will monitor changes over a six-week period and make a decision on Israel’s entry into the Visa Waiver Program by September 30, according to US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.
During that period, they will also see whether Palestinian Americans and other Arab Americans are disproportionately scrutinized by Israeli security, as has often been the case, with Palestinians and Arabs often finding themselves facing additional checks and tight restrictions.
Have restrictions been lifted?
Sources told Reuters on condition of anonymity last month that the changes would allow Palestinian-Americans in the West Bank to enter and exit Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, whereas in the past they had to go to neighboring Jordan, cross into the occupied West Bank by land and be subject to restrictions if they sought entry into Israel.
They will also be able to use new Israeli online forms to apply for entry into Israel at crossing points in the West Bank.
A US official said that Palestinian Americans who make the trip will be able to stay in Israel for up to 90 days.
A source told Reuters that participants in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which calls for a boycott, divestment or punishment of Israel, will not have their entry restricted.
The Arab American Institute estimates that there are 122,500 to 220,000 Palestinian Americans, with an official US estimate that about 45,000 to 60,000 live in the West Bank.
Relations between the United States and Israel have been relatively tense in recent months, with Washington raising criticism of Israeli abuses against the Palestinians and expressing concern about the far-right Israeli government’s plan to reform the judiciary.
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