Israel will allow all United States citizens, including Palestinian Americans living in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, to enter the country in a bid to get visa-free travel for Israelis to the US.
The change was introduced on Thursday, after US Ambassador Thomas Nides and Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who is currently visiting the US, signed a “reciprocity agreement” on the issue a day earlier, according to an Israeli statement.
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“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 US has previously prevented Israel from joining its Visa Waiver Program (VWP), citing its differential treatment of some US citizens.
US officials will monitor the changes over a period of six weeks and make a decision about Israel’s entry into the VWP by September 30, according to US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller.
During that period, they will also see whether Palestinian Americans and other Arab Americans are scrutinised disproportionately by Israeli security, as has often been the case, with Palestinians and Arabs often finding themselves facing extra checks and tight restrictions.
Sources told the Reuters news agency on the condition of anonymity last month that the changes will allow Palestinian Americans in the West Bank to fly in and out of Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, whereas in the past they had to go to neighbouring Jordan, cross into the occupied West Bank by land and be subjected to restrictions if they sought entry into Israel.
They will also be able to use new online Israeli forms to apply for entry into Israel at West Bank crossing points.
The Palestinian Americans making the journey will be able to stay in Israel for up to 90 days, a US official said.
Those participating in the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement that calls to boycott, divest from or sanction Israel, will not be restricted entry, a source told Reuters.
The Arab American Institute Foundation estimates that there are 122,500 to 220,000 Palestinian Americans, with a US official estimate that about 45,000 to 60,000 live in the West Bank.
US-Israel relations have been relatively tense in recent months, as Washington raises criticisms of Israeli abuses against Palestinians and expresses concern over the Israeli far-right government’s plan to overhaul the judiciary.