US ambassador wants to solve the visa issue for Israelis once and for all

“I want to do this for the Israeli people,” he said. “Listen, I got a visa, I have a passport, I don’t need it. I’m working day and night to get this done.”

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

American ambassador to Israel Tom Nides is working around the clock to have Israelis included in the program that would allow visa-free travel to the United States, he said in an interview with Channel 13 Wednesday.

“I want to do this for the Israeli people,” he said with a smile. “Listen, I got a visa, I have a passport, I don’t need it. I’m working day and night to get this done…. I’m confident we’ll get there.”

However, he warned, “We are running out of time.” The necessary legislation that needs to be completed in the Knesset must be done “by early next year” so that Israelis can already join the Visa Waiver Program in 2023, he said.

Nides had said in June that the laws Israel had to pass for the process to be completed in time was “this calendar year,” so the mention of “early next year” is an effective delay of the deadline.

Since national elections are scheduled for November 1 and it is almost inevitable that coalition negotiations will take weeks if not longer, this seems to mean that parliamentarians would have to vote on the necessary laws even before a government is formed.

Read  Israel must take and hold Gaza indefinitely - analysis

This could be a long shot, considering that according to a report earlier this month on Channel 12, Nides had unsuccessfully approached Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu about setting aside politics temporarily in order to join the coalition in passing the two relevant laws. The interim government does not have the votes without getting support from the Opposition.

In June as well, right before the Knesset was dissolved, Nides pleaded for cooperation and the coalition tried to bring the laws to a vote. The Opposition refused to cooperate as it was unwilling to give its rivals any sort of victory they could tout in their upcoming election campaigns.

The Likud responded to the Channel 12 report by saying, in contrast to Nides’ remarks, that “According to American law, approval for Israeli visas can only be granted in a year.”

The party also claimed that “at this stage, it includes an American demand for intrusion into the privacy of Israeli citizens, which is unacceptable to us,” promising that when the right-wing wins in November, it will “bring the necessary responsible legislation and complete the move by March 2023, so that the issuance of the visas will not be delayed even one day.”

On other issues of the day, responding to questions, Nides said the White House had not been informed in advance about last weekend’s Operation Breaking Dawn in the Gaza Strip against Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He indicated, however, that this wasn’t a problem, as the administration fully “supports Israel’s right to defend itself.”

Read  Israel attacked 'countless' nuclear targets in Iran's 'heartland,' says former Mossad chief

The Americans “weren’t surprised” by the Israeli attack, he said, adding, “these are bad guys…. We understood this was an important mission for the Israelis.”

When pushed regarding U.S. leadership to help solve the Palestinian conflict, Nides said outright that the White House has said “from the get-go” that it’s important to “push forward with the idea that it’s ’67 borders with land swaps and the two-state solution.” According to Channel 13, this was the clearest statement heard yet from the Biden administration on the issue.

On Iran, he stated that the U.S. “wants a diplomatic solution to this crisis,” that the administration will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, and “number three, we have Israel’s back.” When asked about a “Plan B” in case Iran does not sign onto a new nuclear deal, he said, “Every option is on the table, as President Biden said.”