The Biden administration has announced that Israeli citizens will be allowed to enter the United States without a visa, a move aimed at improving relations between the two nations. This decision comes at a crucial time as President Biden is engaged in complex diplomacy with Israel on various issues. In return, Israel must reciprocate by taking actions to facilitate travel for American citizens, including Palestinian Americans who often face difficulties visiting their family members and friends in Palestinian territories.
The administration officials explained that Israel was accepted into the U.S. government’s visa waiver program following a pilot effort that began in July. Since then, over 100,000 U.S. citizens, including tens of thousands of Palestinian Americans, have been able to enter Israel without a visa. This new arrangement allows U.S. citizens intending to visit the West Bank to fly into Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv and then travel overland to the Palestinian territory. Previously, Palestinian Americans had to go to Jordan first and then cross into the West Bank via the Allenby Bridge.
The announcement from the State and Homeland Security Departments stated that Israel had met the necessary criteria, including extending reciprocal privileges to all U.S. citizens without discrimination based on national origin, religion, or ethnicity. However, some groups, such as the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, have expressed concerns over discrimination faced by Palestinian Americans during the pilot phase of the agreement and have filed a lawsuit to stop the agreement. Despite the visa waiver program being extended to Israel, border officers retain the authority to deny entry to anyone at the port of entry.