US pressures Israel to ease travel restrictions on Palestinian Americans in return for this

Palestinian Americans will be able to more freely enter Israel through Ben Gurion airport, as a condition for Israel joining the US visa waiver program. 

By Donna Rachel Edmunds, World Israel News

Israel has agreed to ease restrictions on Americans of Palestinian descent seeking to enter through Ben Gurion airport, as part of negotiations aimed at Israel entering the US visa waiver program.

Although no official ban on Palestinian Americans exists, in practice many face long interviews with the Shin Bet upon arrival or are denied entry entirely, prompting many to instead fly to Amman and seek entry through the Allenby crossing.

It is not yet clear what mechanisms will be put in place to satisfy the American demands for the process to be eased, but they will not extend to American citizens who also hold a Palestinian ID card.

Next month, a delegation from the US Homeland Security department is due to arrive in Israel to discuss the details on bringing Israel into America’s visa waiver program. Currently Israelis wanting to travel to the states must submit a visa application in advance of their travel plans, a process that includes a visit to the US embassy for an interview, and turning over their passport for it to be returned with the visa inside. The process can take months, and under Covid has been lengthening to take up to a year.

Consequently, Israel has long sought entry to the visa waiver program. In order to qualify, Israel will have to get its visa refusal rate down from the current rate of 4.5 percent to below 3 percent by October 2022. It will also have to give the US access to Israeli criminal records, which requires Knesset legislation.

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However, there is cause for optimism. In August, during a meeting at the White House, US President Joe Biden told Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett that he had instructed his staff to start working on Israel’s application to join the program. And last month, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said that Israel would be added to the program by early 2023.

Last week, Shaked updated the US Ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, on Israel’s decision to ease travel restrictions on Palestinian Americans as requested by US officials. Shaked’s comments were reported on Army Radio, with the report later confirmed to the Times of Israel by an Israeli source.