The US government has announced that it will admit Israel into the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), allowing visa-free entry for Israeli citizens starting on November 30. The decision is seen as a victory for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as relations between his government and Washington have been strained recently. However, some Palestinians have expressed opposition to Israel’s inclusion in the program, citing discrimination against Arab Americans and harassment at Israeli borders. Four Democratic US senators have also raised concerns about Israel’s treatment of American travelers. Despite this, US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas stated that the move will strengthen the ties between the two countries.
The admission of Israel into the VWP means that Palestinian-Americans living in the West Bank or the United States will now be able to enter Israel visa-free and freely travel through Ben Gurion airport, reducing travel barriers for these individuals. Netanyahu hailed the decision as a significant moment for all Israeli citizens. To be part of the program, countries must meet certain requirements related to counterterrorism, law enforcement, immigration enforcement, document security, and border management. Additionally, they must treat all US travelers equally, which means that Israel must allow Palestinian Americans to pass through Ben Gurion airport without any hindrances.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry has called on the United States to ensure equal treatment for Palestinians and criticized the Israeli inclusion in the program. In a pilot period that began on July 20, Israel has already eased access for Palestinian Americans through its borders and the occupied West Bank. More than 130,000 Americans, including 6,070 Palestinian Americans, have entered Israel during this pilot period. Previously, there were 40 countries in the VWP, with the most recent addition being Croatia in 2021. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken believes that this decision will improve the freedom of movement for US citizens, including those living in or traveling to the Palestinian Territories.