Israeli authorities intend to ease travel for American-Palestinians who live in the Gaza Strip as part of the country’s preparations to join the United States' visa waiver program, Reuters reported on Monday.
As of mid-September, American-Palestinians will be able to enter Israel from Gaza on a three-month tourist visa and fly out of the country via Ben-Gurion International Airport.
On July 19, Israel received authorization to go ahead with a pilot program for loosening travel restrictions on American-Palestinians living in Palestinian territories or visiting family members in Palestinian territories. A reciprocity agreement signed by Israeli Ambassador to Washington Mike Herzog and outgoing US Ambassador in Jerusalem Tom Nides will allow any American citizen to enter Israel via its airports, including Americans residing in both the West Bank and Gaza.
If Washington deems that Israel is complying with the condition of allowing all Americans to travel in and out of Israel equally, the path will be cleared for Israel to join the visa waiver program. Israelis will be allowed to travel to the United States without requesting a visa ahead of time.
Until now, American-Palestinians living in the United States or in the Palestinian territories were subject to various travel restrictions when entering or exiting Israel and traveling between Israel and Palestinian territories. The new program means they can more easily enter Israel, on equal terms with any other American citizen, and travel between Israel and the West Bank more easily as well.
When the program was first announced, it affected only the West Bank and not the Gaza Strip. Now, it will offer the same conditions to American-Palestinians living in the Strip. Haaretz noted that the agreement concerning Gaza was granted this week despite security warnings from the IDF and the Shin Bet against offering hundreds of American-Palestinians residing in Gaza easy entry into Israel.
Israel has already agreed in principal to the US demand to share passenger data, and is working to adapt its systems for sharing this information with the relevant American authorities.
According to Haaretz, policy-makers have decided to abide by all the American demands, even those contradictory to Israeli security recommendations, as participation in the US visa waiver program is hailed as an important diplomatic achievement.
On Aug. 1, Reuters reported that a US delegation to Israel had arrived to monitor the implementation of the new travel measures. The delegation met with officials at the Israel Immigration Authority, visited Ben Gurion Airport and inspected crossing points between Israel and the West Bank. In order to finalize the process for the visa waiver program, the Israeli Knesset will have to approve various new measures. According to assessments in Israel, entry into the visa program could happen as soon as Oct. 1.