US State Department: Israel has not yet met requirements for US visa waiver program

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  March 29, 2023

One of the requirements is to provide entry rights to Palestinian Americans at all airports in Israel and into the occupied Palestinian territories.

Israel has not yet met the eligibility requirements to join the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which requires the country to grant free passage for Palestinian Americans at its airports and into the occupied West Bank.

Israel “still has significant work to complete on a short timeline to meet all program requirements” by the end of the fiscal year on 30 September, US State Department deputy spokesperson, Vedant Patel, said. If the requirements are met, then Israel would be considered for the program. 

“Participation in the VWP requires that Israel provide equal treatment and entry rights to all US citizens and nationals, at Israel’s ports of entries and checkpoints, just as the US would grant such visa-free travel privileges to Israeli citizens,” Patel said.

“This includes Palestinian Americans, including those on the Palestinian Authority population registry.”

On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that with new legislation, Israel would join in September, and in the meantime, it would address the requirements. He did not detail the requirements. 

Travel restrictions on Palestinian Americans

Israel has been trying to enter the program for years. The waiver allows foreign travelers to visit and stay in the US for 90 days visa-free, granting US citizens the same right in other countries. The US currently has such agreements with 40 countries.

Israel currently prevents individuals registered in the Palestinian Authority population registry, including those without a Palestinian ID card, from entering Israel without advance permission, regardless of their US citizenship. Instead, they are required to enter and depart the occupied West Bank through the Allenby Bridge crossing with Jordan.

In October, twenty progressive House lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, arguing that Israel should not be accepted into the waiver program because of its onerous travel restrictions on US citizens.

Other lawmakers argued that accepting Israel into the program would boost tourism and national security.