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Israel to allow entry of Palestinian Americans as it pursues US visa waiver

Israel announces 'reciprocity' agreement and Washington will monitor whether Palestinian Americans are discriminated by Israeli security
Passengers arrive on the Jordanian side of the Allenby Bridge crossing on 19 July 2022.
Passengers arrive on the Jordanian side of Allenby Bridge crossing, on 19 July 2022 (AFP)

Israel has said it will allow all United States citizens, including Palestinian Americans living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, to enter the country, as Israel continues seeking entry into a US visa waiver programme.

The announcement was made on Thursday after US ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides and Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who is currently on a visit to Washington, signed a “reciprocity agreement”, according to an Israeli statement.

“The full implementation of the program will apply to any US citizen, including those with dual citizenship, American residents of Judea and Samaria [the occupied West Bank] and American residents of the Gaza Strip,” the statement said.

The agreement will allow Palestinian Americans who do not reside in the occupied West Bank to be able to freely enter Israel and the West Bank as tourists, Axios reported, citing Israeli officials and foreign ministry documents.

For Palestinian Americans who reside in the West Bank, they will have to use a special app in order to get a 90-day entry permit to Israel.

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Those participating in the Palestinian-led BDS movement, which is a non-violent initiative that calls to boycott, divest from or sanction Israel, will not be restricted entry, a source told Reuters.

The US has previously prevented Israel from joining its visa waiver program (VWP), citing its differential treatment of some US citizens.

During a news conference on Thursday, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Washington would be monitoring the changes over a period of six weeks and then make a decision about whether or not to allow Israel's entry into the visa waiver programme by 30 September.

During that period, Washington will also see whether Palestinian Americans and other Arab Americans are disproportionately scrutinised by Israeli security, as has often been the case, with Palestinians and Arabs often finding themselves facing extra checks and tight restrictions.

"Our understanding is that this policy will apply to US citizens, including Palestinian Americans on the Palestinian population registry," Miller said.

"And that will begin a process in which we will monitor not just their implementation of these policies but their compliance with these policies and compliance with other facets of the visa waiver programme."

Testing freedom of movement

Israel has been striving for inclusion in the visa programme and hopes to do so by October this year. The programme permits overseas visitors to remain in the US for up to 90 days without a visa, reciprocating the same privilege to US citizens in participant countries. 

As it stands, the US maintains this type of agreement with 40 nations.

Prior to the agreement announced this week, Israel prevented 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.

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Instead, they are required to enter and depart the occupied West Bank through the Allenby Bridge crossing with Jordan.

According to Axios, Palestinian Americans who reside in Gaza will face a more difficult situation due to "security concerns".

Earlier this year, the US said it would begin testing the freedom of travel afforded to Palestinian Americans in Israel. 

The assessment would include American delegates monitoring the travel of Palestinian Americans through the Ben-Gurion Airport as well as at checkpoints across the West Bank.

According to The Arab American Institute Foundation, there are 122,500 to 220,000 Palestinian Americans, and an official US estimate says about 45,000 to 60,000 live in the West Bank.

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