Pilot Program Launched to Assess Travel Rights Ahead of US Visa Exemptions for Israelis
In a move aimed at ensuring equal travel opportunities, the United States will conduct an assessment of the freedom of travel afforded to Palestinian Americans in Israel. This initiative comes as the US prepares to implement visa exemptions for Israelis in the near future.
Israel is actively seeking admission to the US visa waiver program (VWP) by October. However, to meet the program’s requirements, Israel needs to ensure that Palestinian Americans can freely access Israeli ports of entry as well as the territories of the occupied West Bank.
Earlier this year, the US State Department deputy spokesperson, Vedant Patel, noted that Israel still had significant work to complete within a tight timeline to fulfill all the program requirements by the end of the fiscal year on September 30.
Provided Israel meets the requirements, it will be considered for participation in the VWP. As Patel explained, Israel needs to provide equal treatment and entry rights to all US citizens and nationals, including Palestinian Americans listed on the Palestinian Authority population registry.
To keep Israel’s VWP candidacy on track, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen recently announced the launch of a pilot program in mid-July. The program is expected to last for 30 to 45 days and will involve US delegates monitoring the travel experiences of Palestinian Americans. Their observations will cover various aspects, including entry at Ben-Gurion Airport and movements through checkpoints across the West Bank.
For example, under this program, a Palestinian American residing in Ramallah would be able to spend up to 90 days in Tel Aviv with an Israeli entry visa, thereby granting them greater freedom of movement within the country.
The issue of inclusion in the visa waiver program has long been a priority for Israel, as it would enable Israeli visitors to stay in the US for up to 90 days without a visa, reciprocating the same privilege granted to US citizens in participating countries. Currently, the US has such agreements with 40 nations.
However, the existing policies in Israel prevent individuals listed on the Palestinian Authority population registry, even those with US citizenship, from entering Israel without prior permission. Instead, they are required to use the Allenby Bridge crossing with Jordan for entry and exit to the occupied West Bank. This discrepancy has raised concerns among some US lawmakers who argue that it constitutes discriminatory treatment against American citizens.
Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen has expressed his concerns, stating that American visitors should not face unequal treatment based on their ethnicity or race. He highlighted the differing experiences between Palestinian Americans and other Americans when traveling to the West Bank, emphasizing the importance of reciprocity and fair treatment for all American citizens.
As the assessment of Palestinian American travel rights takes place, the outcome will play a crucial role in determining Israel’s eligibility for the visa waiver program. By ensuring equal access and treatment, Israel aims to meet the necessary criteria and strengthen its case for participation in the program.