Vedant Patel, the State Department’s Principal Deputy Spokesperson, on Wednesday, told reporters that to qualify for the US visa exemption program, Israel must offer similar privileges to every US Citizen.
“To us, reciprocity means extending reciprocal privileges to all U.S. citizens and nationals – all of them – including Palestinian and Arab Americans to travel to and throughout Israel,” Patel said, stressing, “This includes Americans on the Palestinian population registry.”
A recent letter from the American Federation of Ramallah-Palestine to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorcas, with input from the American Palestinian Council and various Arab American organizations, raised concerns about Israel’s discrimination against US citizens of Palestinian dissent.
Before Israel can be admitted to the Visa Waiver Program, the US must certify that Israel has changed its discriminatory policies against “Palestinian” Americans, especially those with dual PA and US citizenship.
To meet US expectations, Israel must commit to the following actions:
- Recognizing the priority of US citizenship over any other nationality that PA Arabs may hold, including holding a PA passport.
- Permitting American PA Arabs unlimited freedom and visa-free travel to, from, and within Israel and Judea and Samaria.
- Allowing US citizens, including PA Arabs, entry into Israel, the PA, and Gaza.
- Any visa waiver agreement between the US and Israel must include the Gaza Strip.
- Israel must include in its agreement all entry points: airports, bridge crossings, and harbors.
On October 20, 2022, the IDF Civil Administration in the territories complicated matters when it codified and tightened the previous restrictions on the entry of foreigners, including American citizens, to the PA. These regulations prevent most US citizens from entering the PA. At the same time, there are no restrictions on US citizens wishing to visit Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria.
If the restrictions imposed by the Civil Administration remain in effect, Israel would not be living up to the principle of reciprocity, and won’t be able to benefit from the visa waiver program.
As Patel put it on Wednesday: “It’s our viewpoint that what we want this to be is that visa reciprocity in the Visa Waiver Program would mean that as a general principle, any American – that includes Palestinian and Arab American – will be able to travel visa-free to Israel for a short-term stay of up to 90 days. They would be able to enter Israel without any hindrance through any port of entry, including Ben Gurion Airport, travel to any location in Israel, as well as transit through Israel to and from the West Bank. And as I said, this includes all American citizens and nationals.”