On Wednesday, the US State Department said that Israel had not yet met the eligibility criteria to join the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP), despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stating that he expected Israel to join soon. Israel is yet to allow Palestinian-Americans to enter the country and the occupied West Bank freely, a requirement for Israel to meet the reciprocity condition of joining the program. This program would enable Israelis to enter the United States without a visa.
In an email, Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel said that Israel had “significant work to complete on a short timeline to meet all program requirements” by the end of the fiscal year on September 30. Tensions between the two allies were heightened due to a disputed Israeli judicial overhaul plan. Netanyahu had said earlier on Wednesday that Israel would join the program in September and that Israel would address outstanding requirements in the coming months.
The State Department clarified that Israel must provide equal treatment and entry rights to all US citizens and nationals, including Palestinian-Americans on the Palestinian Authority population registry, at its ports of entry and checkpoints. Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, had earlier stated that parliament was expected to ratify the last of four bills “that will advance us toward getting the US visa waiver for the citizens of Israel”.
This was a reference to the Knesset plenum’s approval in final readings on Wednesday of a law that established a new national immigration database linked with airline passenger manifests. Previously, the US had called for greater access to databases in Israel on its travelers to the United States.