The Biden administration made a significant announcement on Wednesday, revealing that Israel has been included in the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Commencing on November 30, Israeli citizens will no longer require a visa to visit the United States; instead, they will only need to register with the ESTA system.
In return, Israel is expected to ease entry regulations for Palestinians holding US citizenship, as reported by The Times of Israel (TOI).
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken celebrated this development, stating, “Israel is now the 41st member of the visa waiver program. This significant achievement marks a significant stride in our strategic partnership.”
This decision by the United States marks a diplomatic success for the religious-nationalist government led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It comes amidst strained relations between the Biden administration and Israel due to disagreements over Israel’s contentious judicial reform proposal and its policies concerning the Palestinians, according to Reuters. Israel’s foreign ministry had anticipated this move.
According to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the decision “strengthens security, economic, and interpersonal bonds between the United States and Israel.”
As a result of this decision, Palestinians with US citizenship residing in the occupied West Bank or in the United States will have the opportunity to visit Israel without the need for a visa and utilize Ben Gurion International Airport for their travels.
To gain entry into the program, which permits visitors to stay in the United States for up to 90 days without a visa, countries must meet certain conditions, with a particular emphasis on security matters. Furthermore, countries must extend equal treatment to all US travelers, irrespective of their other nationalities.
It’s worth noting that some Palestinians have voiced their opposition to Israel’s inclusion in the VWP, citing decades of what they perceive as discriminatory treatment of Arab Americans at Israel’s borders.
According to TOI, this decision by the United States will impact approximately 70,000 Palestinian Americans registered in the West Bank, with a stricter measure applying to about 700 individuals in the Gaza Strip.