The Biden administration announced on Wednesday that it would allow Israeli citizens to enter the United States without a visa, a step toward improving relations between the two countries at a time when President Biden is embroiled in a complex diplomatic row with Israel.
The move means Israel must take reciprocal measures for American citizens, including Palestinian Americans, who often face difficulties traveling to the Palestinian territories to visit family members and friends.
Administration officials said they agreed to accept Israel into the U.S. government’s visa waiver program after overseeing a pilot effort since July, when the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding. Since July 20, Israel has allowed more than 100,000 US citizens, including tens of thousands of Palestinian Americans, to enter Israel without visas, officials said.
Officials said any American citizen attempting to travel to the West Bank can now go to Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv and travel to the Palestinian territories. Earlier, Israel forced many Palestinian Americans to first go to Jordan and then cross the West Bank via the Allenby Bridge.
Washington is still working out some technical arrangements for Israeli citizens who will be able to travel to the U.S. visa-free by Nov. 30, administration officials said.
Many major groups opposed allowing Israel into the program unless it promised to treat Americans equally, including Palestinian Americans. In a September 8 letter to Secretary of State Anthony J. Blingen15 Democratic senators expressed their concerns about the treatment of American travelers based on their race and religion.
Administration officials said Tuesday that Israel had met the agreement’s criteria and that all Americans would be eligible to travel to Israel without a visa.
On Tuesday, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Group The Biden administration filed a lawsuit in Michigan seeking to block entry into the agreement. The group said Palestinian Americans who traveled to Israel in the pre-agreement phase faced discrimination, including trying to get past checkpoints and rent cars.
The US government has visa agreements with 40 countries, mostly in Europe and Asia. However, border officials have the power to turn anyone back at the port of entry.
Administration officials said the scheme helps security as passenger information, including names of countries, can be shared faster.
Mr. Biden and his aides are deceiving important diplomatic targets toward Israel. They have pushed for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposed changes to the judiciary, which would limit checks on the prime minister’s office and, in the view of critics, move Israel away from democratic rule. Israeli citizens have been protesting the move for months.
Mr. Biden Administration Netanyahu’s anti-Palestinian actions and his right-wing coalition are pushing him to curb the government’s policies. At the same time, Mr. It is trying to get Saudi Arabia to normalize relations with Israel, as part of convincing Netanyahu to keep his alliance.
Talks on the normalization issue so far have focused on US demands from Saudi Arabia, and US and Saudi officials have not yet progressed to making specific demands on Palestinian rights to the Israelis.