The Israeli Foreign Ministry said on Monday that it expects the United States to announce this week that it would be accepted to the Visa Waiver Program, allowing Israeli nationals to enter the country visa-free beginning in November.
The deadline for Israel to demonstrate compliance with US criteria is September 30. If successful, it would be a victory for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s religious-nationalist administration, whose ties with Washington have been strained due to attempts to reform the court as well as policies toward Palestinians.
“Israel joining the Visa Waiver Program is a diplomatic achievement and good news for all Israeli citizens,” Foreign Minister Eli Cohen stated.
The State Department made no immediate reaction.
For admission to the program, Washington requires countries to treat all U.S. travelers equally, regardless of whatever other passports they may hold. In Israel’s case, that would mean free passage for Palestinian Americans at its airports and when travelling into and out of the occupied Palestinian territories.
Some Palestinians have protested at Israel’s entry into the VWP, citing what they say are decades of discriminatory treatment of Arab Americans and harassment at Israel’s borders.
In a pilot period that has been running since July 20, Israel has loosened access for Palestinian Americans through its borders and in and out of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Between 45,000 and 60,000 Palestinian Americans live in the West Bank, a U.S. official estimated. An Israeli official gave lower figures, saying that of 70,000 to 90,000 Palestinian Americans worldwide, 15,000 to 20,000 are West Bank residents.
There are currently 40 countries in the VWP. Countries are not added frequently, with Croatia being the latest to join in 2021.