Fifteen US Senators have written a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging him to delay Israel’s entry into the US Visa Waiver Program.
The letter was signed by: Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and signed by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Tina Smith (D-MN).
The senators cite Israeli discrimination against Palestinian Authority Arab residents holding US passports – in particular, against those in Gaza – as the reason for the delay.
“According to the MOU itself, Israel is not expected to fully implement one system that all US citizen travelers can use for purposes of visa waiver travel until May 1, 2024, well beyond the September 30, 2023, deadline for meeting program requirements. The MOU states that Israel will employ ‘an interim process for a US citizen who is a resident of the West Bank.’ Such a two-tiered system of entry inherently violates the Administration’s own standard for reciprocity that “Blue is Blue” – meaning “equal treatment and freedom of travel for all U.S. citizens regardless of national origin, religion, or ethnicity,” the letter said.
“The exclusion of an entire group of US citizens because of their Gaza designation on the Palestinian Population Registry is a clear violation of “Blue is Blue” and a concerning indication of Israel’s failure to implement the reciprocity requirements.”
The US and Israel signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) this past July that set the conditions for Israel’s entry into the program, which would allow Israeli citizens to enter the US for 90 days without first obtaining a visa.
A pilot program has since been implemented to test Israel’s compliance with the terms of the program, which includes allowing US citizens in the Palestinian Authority and Gaza to enter all border crossings and airports, and to travel freely throughout Israel.
Israeli officials cited by Axios said more than 12,000 US citizens residing in the Palestinian Authority (PA) have entered Israel in the past two months, under the new regulations, and “several thousand” PA citizens living in the US have landed at Ben Gurion International Airport.
It is no surprise that Israeli authorities are seeking a way to ensure the safety of its own citizens while attempting to fulfill the conditions of the visa waiver program. At least 35 Israeli citizens have been murdered by Palestinian Authority terrorists since January.
Many of those terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens have been carried out by residents of the Palestinian Authority who were legally in the country because they possessed work permits. Gaza’s ruling Hamas terrorist organization, backed by Iran, has repeatedly said it intends to annihilate the Jewish State. Together with its ally, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist organization, Hamas has paid for, trained and equipped many of the terrorists who have carried out attacks on Israelis.
The Secretary of State, and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas are set to decide by September 30 whether Israel has complied with the conditions of the program.