Israelis have been waiting to get on the American visa waiver list for decades.
By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News
Although Iran took top billing in the meetings Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held Wednesday with top administration officials, there was significant progress made on another issue close to his heart, according to one of his staffers – visa waivers.
In his brief statement on Bennett’s discussions with U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Spokesperson Ned Price said that the two had discussed four subjects: “regional security issues, including Iran,” America’s commitment to Israel’s security, ways to “advance prospects for a two-state solution” with the Palestinians – and the waivers.
“Secretary Blinken and Prime Minister Bennett agreed on the importance of working toward Israel’s inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program in order to benefit both U.S. citizens and Israeli citizens,” Price said.
An unnamed Bennett staffer added to Kan News that Blinken had clarified to Bennett that there is a directive on his part to resolve the issue, and that “there is no reason why Israel should not be part of the visa waiver program.”
Visa waivers have been on the Israeli wish list for decades, considering the popularity of the United States as a tourist destination. The American hesitation to add Israel to the 40 countries already on the waiver list stemmed from two main reasons: Israel’s refusal to allow some Palestinian-Americans in for a visit, and the high American rejection rate of Israelis, mostly young singles whom they fear will overstay their visa to work illegally in the U.S.
The usual Israeli explanation, that the former is due to security considerations, and the latter are simply in that “risky” category because they are post-army, but only looking to have some fun after two or three years of serving their country, is now seemingly falling on more receptive ears.
It will not happen right away, however. According to the senior staffer, it will still take a bit of time because “there are things we need to do, and there are things they need to do. The technical problems need to be solved.”
Israeli ambassador to the U.N. and U.S. Gilad Erdan rushed to take part of the credit for the advances made on the issue.
“I am pleased with the significant progress that has been made in getting a visa waiver for Israelis entering the United States,” he said in an announcement Thursday. “It’s a process I’ve been leading over recent months as ambassador, because there is no reason for Israeli citizens to have to spend time and money in order to enter the [country].”
Erdan has discussed the subject with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, as he noted in a tweet about two weeks ago. The two even established a joint team to delve into the details, the Kan report said.
In other meetings Wednesday, Bennett spoke with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan about Iran and the recent actions of its terror proxies on Israel’s borders, Hezbollah and Hamas. Austin told the prime minister that the U.S. is committed to Israel’s right to defend itself from all three, which includes military aid such that “the Iron Dome [missile defense system] can continue to protect the citizens of Israel.”
According to Bennett’s staffer, replenishing stocks needed for the Iron Dome had also been high on the prime minister’s agenda. Now all eyes turn to Thursday’s meeting with the U.S. president, which is expected to cover the gamut of challenging issues already raised, as well as establish a personal, warm rapport between the two leaders, another top goal for the prime minister.