The Biden administration is on the verge of extending an invitation to Israel to join an exclusive club, granting its citizens the privilege of traveling to the United States without requiring a US visa.
While this development marks a significant milestone, it is not without controversy, given ongoing concerns about how the Israeli government treats Palestinian Americans.
The announcement of Israel’s entry into the Visa Waiver Program is anticipated later this week, strategically timed just before the end of the federal budget year on Saturday.
This timing allows Israel to gain admission without the need to requalify for eligibility next year.
The Visa Waiver Program, overseen by the Department of Homeland Security, currently offers citizens from 40 predominantly European and Asian nations the ability to visit the United States for up to three months without a visa.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is slated to announce a recommendation from Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who supports Israel’s admission.
Despite the decision yet to be publicly disclosed, Blinken’s request is expected to be delivered by Tuesday.
This decision comes just eight days after President Joe Biden met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York during the UN General Assembly.
While this issue was not raised in their public remarks, it has been a topic of intense negotiation for months, along with the Biden administration’s efforts to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Israel’s Admission to Visa Waiver Program: A Complex Decision with Controversy and Ongoing Concerns
The State Department and the Department of Homeland Security have remained tight-lipped about the matter, indicating that they have “nothing to announce publicly at this time.”
However, they reaffirm that the US and Israel are collaborating to fulfill the program’s law enforcement, national security, and immigration-related requirements.
Israel’s admission to the Visa Waiver Program is a significant achievement, particularly for Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has been at odds with the Biden administration on various fronts, including Iran, the Palestinian conflict, and proposed changes to Israel’s judicial system.
However, this move has also sparked criticism, particularly regarding the treatment of Palestinians by Netanyahu’s far-right government, including the construction of West Bank settlements, opposition to Palestinian statehood, and inflammatory remarks by senior Cabinet ministers.
The decision is expected to bolster Netanyahu’s standing domestically. Still, it may draw condemnation from Palestinians who argue that the US should not reward the Israeli government during a stalled peace effort.
While Israel has met two of the three critical criteria for program admission over the past two years, the issue of reciprocity remains unresolved.
Israel has long maintained separate entry requirements and screening processes for Palestinian Americans, citing national security concerns. Recent adjustments have been made to ease restrictions on Palestinian Americans, but concerns linger.
The Homeland Security Department emphasizes its intent to closely monitor the situation to ensure Israel’s compliance, with suspension from the program being a potential consequence if they fail to do so.
Source: ABC News