U.S. and Israel ambassadors sign Visa Waiver Program MoU

Agreement will require Israel to allow U.S. citizens from all backgrounds to enter its territory without discrimination; Security establishment reservations answered for as trial period set to begin

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog and the U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides on Wednesday signed a memorandum of understanding on the extension of reciprocal privileges in the Visa Waiver Program, a key stepping stone in the Jewish state’s bid to ascend to the program.
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As part of the agreement, Israel announced a pilot program that will take effect starting Thursday, allowing unfettered passage for Americans of Palestinian origin to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip via Ben Gurion Airport.
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ארה"ב ויזה דרכון
ארה"ב ויזה דרכון
U.S. visa
(Photo: Shutterstock)
After the signing, Ambassador Herzog tweeted, "I was privileged today to represent the government of Israel in signing a U.S.-Israel memorandum of understanding on the extension of reciprocal privileges in the visa waiver program. This is a significant milestone towards Israel joining the program. Thank you to everybody on both sides who worked so diligently towards this goal, especially my colleague and dear friend @USAmbIsrael Tom Nides and @DHS_Policy Rob Silvers, for their significant contributions."
National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said that the agreement "strengthens the unbreakable bond between our countries and directly contributes to Israel’s security." According to him, "This is an important milestone, which brings us closer to fully complying with the American government’s requirements for the VWP nomination.
According to an Israeli official, there are about 70,000 to 90,000 Palestinian Americans worldwide and about 15,000 to 20,000 were West Bank residents.
Israel’s national security establishment had numerous reservations about implementing the pilot program due to security risks. However, Washington saw reciprocity as a crucial condition for including Israel in the Visa Waiver Program.
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מיכאל הרצוג חותם על הסכם הדדיות לפטור מוויזה
מיכאל הרצוג חותם על הסכם הדדיות לפטור מוויזה
Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog signs the Visa Waiver Program MoU
Eventually, under the direction of the political echelons, solutions were found to satisfy the Shin Bet's requirements, and Israel committed that Palestinian Americans would be able to enter through Ben Gurion Airport without discrimination or delays. Until now they have generally had to fly via neighboring Jordan, cross into the West Bank by land and usually faced restrictions if they then wanted to enter Israel.
U.S. officials assessing the trial will also focus on whether Palestinian Americans or other Arab Americans are subjected to selective grilling by Israeli security personnel.
TRIAL 30-DAY PROGRAM BEGINS TODAY

U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller stated on Wednesday that Washington expects Israel to announce policy changes to “ensure equal treatment for all U.S. citizen travelers, without regard to national origin, religion or ethnicity,” confirming that this is a "condition for the visa waiver program."
According to him, “We will monitor not just their implementation of these policies but their compliance with these policies and compliance or other facets of the Visa Waiver Program, and by September 30 make a decision on whether they merit admission into the program.”
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Ben Gurion Airport
Ben Gurion Airport
Ben Gurion Airport
(Photo: Shiri Hadar)
In response to the U.S. State Department’s remarks, a senior Israeli official stated, "We are 100% committed to the American program, there is no reason not to be. There is nothing political here, it's all professional. Now there will be a pilot, and the Americans will examine if we meet all the conditions."
However, the official clarified that "Israel will maintain the right to refuse entry to Americans deemed a 'security risk,' and the U.S. will do the same. For example, Israelis previously deported from the U.S. will not be allowed to re-enter."
However, a source familiar with the details of Israel’s application process noted that while Israel will prevent Americans labeled as "security risks" from entering its territory, it does not plan to prohibit entry for Palestinians with American nationality who support BDS, a pro-Palestinian movement supporting boycotting, divesting from and sanctioning Israel.
The topic of the Visa Waiver Program was also discussed in the meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and President Isaac Herzog at the White House on Tuesday, according to the source. "They reviewed the progress made on the matter, and there was an expectation that the process would be completed soon," the source said.
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