An official at the American State Department told the Al-Arabiya network in English over the weekend that "Israel still does not meet the requirements to be accepted into the US visa waiver program and must allow Palestinian-Americans to enter its territory and move about freely." The official clarified that Israel has indeed met the required refusal threshold for visa applications – less than 3% – but still does not meet all the criteria required to be the program.
A senior American told Ynet that "work is being done on the issue." The source quoted in Al-Arabiya said that "the American government is working with Israel so that it meets the requirements, such as providing reciprocal and similar opportunities to all American citizens and of all origins." According to him, American citizens of Palestinian origin, including those registered in the Palestinian population registry, are entitled to enjoy the same treatment as Israelis will receive upon entering the United States.
The Americans consider Israel responsible for giving the same treatment to every American citizen, even if their origin is Palestinian, Libyan, Iraqi or Iranian. "The passport is blue, blue, blue," they usually say in the USA – as an expression that emphasizes the fact that in their eyes every American citizen is entitled to equal treatment, regardless of his origin. In Israel they may see a problem in the admission of Americans of Palestinian origin, including those who are registered in the Palestinian population registry. The Americans, for their part, want to prevent investigations and harassment of their citizens – and they are looking to find a mechanism with Israel that will allow the issue to be handled in a respectful manner.
When Israel first entered discussions with the US about its acceptance into the visa exemption program, the issue of equal treatment for all American citizens was considered extremely sensitive. The Shin Bet constantly claimed that these issues would not prevent the visa exemption to the US, but that these things would have to be tested on the ground.
In the eyes of the Americans, the treatment of the holder of American citizenship does not end only in Israel – but also includes freedom of movement within Israel's borders. In Washington's eyes, Israel is required to allow Americans of Palestinian origin to also move easily to the West Bank if they choose, and return through Israel to the US. Israel will be required to treat American passport holders with silk gloves, and to change the attitude toward visitors of Arab origin in general.
The plan drawn up by the US and Israel should make it easier for both sides to prevent the entry of those who raise concerns before they even take off. As part of the plan, each side will be able to conduct intelligence checks on people in advance of their arrival.
The American official's statements to Al-Arabiya came after 16 American senators sent a letter this week to US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Homeland Security Minister Alejandro Mayorkas, in which they called on the Biden administration to ensure that holders of American citizenship receive equal treatment. The senators made it clear that they fear that American citizens appearing in the Palestinian population registry will not receive the same treatment as other American citizens. Today, holders of a Palestinian identity card with an American passport are required to apply for an entry permit to Israel and to fly through Israel's Ben Gurion Airport.
"We have not currently seen any announcements from the Israeli government regarding how it plans to change the practices and policies that negatively affect American citizens, based on religion, ethnicity or – specifically in this case –- Palestinian Americans or Arab Americans," the senators wrote. They stated that every country has the right to pursue the policy it chooses toward foreigners, but clarified that "if a country is interested in the right to participate in our visa waiver program, it does not have the right to discriminate against US citizens."
The legislation required to include Israel in the list of visa-exempt countries for the US was completed in the Knesset last March, which is considerably late. Now, the person in charge of the necessary adjustments in the police, the Population Authority and the Tax Authority is the head of Israel's National Security Council, Tzachi Hanegbi, who was chosen to lead the task. In July, a delegation from the US will arrive to examine whether Israel has met all the requirements, and by October the exemption should be received.
The law approved in Israel state that a national center would be established to collect and examine data on flights and passengers entering or leaving Israel. The bill requires receiving personal information from airlines regarding passengers on flights entering, leaving or passing through the State of Israel. The law authorizes three authorities – the Shin Bet, the Mossad and the police – to establish branches of the database to be managed by them, and the US will have access to them as well.