Partners for Progressive Israel:
The U.S. Decision to Admit Israel into the Visa Waiver Program
was Welcome in Principle but Premature in Practice
September 29, 2023
This past June, Partners for Progressive Israel co-signed an open letter to Secretaries Blinken and Mayorkas in which we expressed the hope that Israel would be admitted to the United States Visa Waiver Program (VWP) as soon as, but not before, it “meets and demonstrates compliance with all the requirements that every country must meet for eligibility.” One of those core requirements is that all U.S. citizens, including Palestinian-Americans, be allowed to enter and leave Israel “on equal terms”.
The Biden White House this week announced a decision to include Israel in the VWP even though it has, to date, fallen short of meeting such requirements. For example, entry procedures for Palestinian-Americans from the West Bank and Gaza Strip will remain markedly different from those for all other Americans. Indeed, Palestinian-Americans on the West Bank will need to submit their entry applications to a central arm of the Occupation system, the so-called “COGAT”, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, which has now come under the authority of the racist minister, Bezalel Smotrich.
We furthermore are concerned, especially at a time when democracy within the Green Line is under acute threat, that Israel’s government has indicated that it could continue to refuse entry to American citizens based on political belief – despite a U.S. request to discontinue this practice.
While we appreciate the benefits offered by the VWP to the citizens of Israel, the U.S. decision was clearly premature. Moreover, it is politically unhelpful since Israel’s current government, which clearly has no intention of remedying these deficiencies, will reap the credit in Israel for this popular program although negotiations regarding it have gone on for many years.
In light of these serious issues, we reiterate our belief that Israel’s “continued participation [in the VWP] should be subject to a suspension mechanism in the case of noncompliance,” as is the case with other countries entering the VWP program.