09-25-2023, 11:57 AM

The Biden administration may enable Israelis to visit the US without a visa

The Biden administration is expected to admit Israel this week into an exclusive club that will allow its residents to travel to the U.S. without a visa, despite Washington's misgivings about Israeli treatment of Palestinian Americans.

Officials say Israel's Visa Waiver Program admittance will be announced late in the week, just before the federal budget year ends on Saturday, the deadline for Israel's admission without requalification next year.

The Department of Homeland Security runs the program, which permits 40 predominantly European and Asian countries to visit the U.S. for three months without visas. 

Netanyahu's far-right government has been criticized by the U.S. for aggressively building West Bank settlements, opposing Palestinian statehood, and key Cabinet officials' anti-Palestinian statements.

Over the past two years, Israel met two of the three most important requirements for joining the U.S. program: low visa application denials and visa overstay rates. The third, which requires all U.S. citizens, including Palestinian Americans, to be treated equally when traveling to or through Israel, was difficult to meet.

Israel has always required Palestinian Americans to undergo separate screening and entrance for national security reasons. Many found the procedures burdensome and discriminatory. Americans possessing West Bank and Gaza residency credentials were mostly prevented from using Israel's international airport. Like other Palestinians, they had to travel through Jordan or Egypt.

According to officials, Israel has allowed Palestinian Americans to fly in and out of Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv and directly to the West Bank and Israel in recent months. Israel has promised to ease Palestinian Americans' entry and exit from Hamas-ruled Gaza.

This month, new laws codified the modifications, but worries persist, and the Homeland Security Department will emphasize in its announcement that it will continue to monitor the situation to ensure Israel complies, officials said. Officials warned that Israel could be suspended from the program for noncompliance.

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