Israeli opposition parties agree to back bills needed for US Visa Waiver Program

Opposition leaders have changed tack now that the Knesset’s dissolution is behind them. 

By World Israel News Staff

Senior members of the Likud-led opposition have told U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides that they will agree to his request to pass legislation enabling Israel to qualify for the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, Ynet News reported on Monday.

The Likud party had previously made it clear that it planned to scuttle the vote in order to prevent the coalition parties from scoring any points ahead of its dispersal.

However, leaders in the Likud, ultra-Orthodox parties and the Arab majority Joint List parties have now expressed their willingness to pass the bills needed,

Nides last week wrote on Twitter: “I’ve been working around the clock since I arrived to help Israel meet all the requirements to join the Visa Waiver Program. Don’t lose momentum now. This will help Israeli citizens travel to the US — put them first!”

The program allows citizens of designated countries to enter the U.S. for 90 days without a visa. Forty countries are already in the program and Israeli officials have been lobbying to be included for years. While the vast majority of American citizens can fly to Israel without obtaining a visa in advance, Israelis must apply for a visa in before traveling to the U.S, in what is often a cumbersome process.

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In order for the VWP to be implemented, there are a number of laws that the Knesset would need to approve, including granting the U.S. partial access to Israelis’ criminal records.

For their part, U.S. officials have expressed their confidence that the required legislation would pass because the matter was not contentious.

The issue of a visa waiver for Israeli citizens visiting the U.S. has been floated by both American and Israeli officials for decades, with little to no progress on the issue.

During the COVID pandemic, however, the American embassy in Israel was shuttered or working in a minimal capacity, creating an enormous backlog of visa requests, with many Israelis waiting more than a year for the face-to-face interviews necessary to obtain a visa.

Earlier in June, progressive Democrats including Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), wrote an open letter urging the Biden administration not to include Israel in the VWP over what they call Israel’s “disparate treatment” of Palestinian Americans trying to enter Judea and Samaria.