As part of a key policy move that will greatly improve access to the country for hundreds of thousands of West Bank inhabitants and Palestinians abroad, Palestinian Americans will now be able to enter and exit Israel through its main airport for the first time.
The modification was made as part of Israel’s ongoing efforts to become a member of the Visa Waiver Program, which would allow Israelis to visit the US for up to 90 days without needing a visa.
The fact that Palestinian American citizens, like all Palestinians, are unable to use Ben Gurion International Airport and must instead go through Jordan was one of the main barriers to participation in the program.
Israel must treat all incoming Americans similarly, regardless of their country of origin, in order for Israel to participate in the program, according to a requirement made by the United States.
Israel will go closer to treating American individuals with Palestinian identity certificates the same as any other person entering Israel thanks to a memorandum of agreement that was signed on Wednesday.
Palestinian Americans, including those arriving from the West Bank, would be granted the same freedom of movement as every other American citizen during a 90-day term in Israel.
Michael Herzog, the Israeli ambassador to the United States; Tom Nides, the American ambassador to Israel; and Rob Silvers, the undersecretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security, all signed the memorandum.
Herzog posted a picture of himself signing the agreement and the statement, “This is a significant milestone towards Israel joining the program,” to his Twitter account.
Israel’s national security adviser, Tzachi HaNegbi, announced that the country would start adhering to the agreement on Thursday.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reviewed a copy of the memorandum, which appears to contain two significant qualifiers that are unlikely to delight Palestinian Americans who have been pushing for this move.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, or COGAT, the Israeli military body that oversees many facets of Palestinian life in the West Bank, still requires Palestinian Americans living there to pre-apply for admittance.
This clause would be in effect until May 1 of the following year, when Israel claims that the COGAT database will be merged with a larger database used at entrance points.
Palestinian Americans won’t be required to pre-apply after that. The U.S. has stated that they would like the screening to last no longer than 24 to 48 hours. The other restriction is that Americans who are already residing in the Gaza Strip would not be covered by the new rules.
The burdensome travel needs in their instance will only be marginally reduced.
Sept. 30 is the cutoff date for applying to join the Visa Waiver Program, a club whose membership Israel has long sought. Israel sees participation in the program as a way to promote trade with the United States and give its residents free reign to go there. Israelis who have had their visa requests rejected claim that it has cost them financially and personally.