November 30, 2023

The Biden administration has warned Israel that it is violating the visa waiver agreement with the United States when it prevents Palestinian-Americans living in the West Bank from entering Israel since the October 7 Hamas attack, two senior Israeli and American officials said. A continued violation of the visa waiver program by Israel may trigger a clause in the agreement according to which, if Israel does not comply with the entry of American citizens into its territory, the visa exemption of Israelis to the US can be suspended. Israel was supposed to officially enter the visa waiver program at the end of this month, but following the Hamas attack, the Biden administration decided to advance it by more than a month and start it as early as October 19. Senior Israeli officials saw the American move as a show of solidarity with the people of Israel as well as a practical move designed to make it easier for Israel in areas affected by the war to fly to the US if they so desired. Shortly after the Hamas attack, Israel imposed a blockade on the West Bank for security reasons and forbade the entry of Palestinians living there, including more than 100,000 Palestinian laborers, who used to come to Israel to work every day. The decision affected tens of thousands of Palestinian Americans who in the preceding months had unprecedented freedom of movement between the West Bank and Israel due to the principle of reciprocity included in the visa waiver agreement, but from October 7, they could not enter Israel. A few days ago, the new US Ambassador Jacob J. Lew met with National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi, and expressed to him his concern about the situation and the effect of the blockade on American citizens, according to senior Israeli and American officials. Lew told Hanegbi that Israel is violating the visa waiver agreement with the US when it does not allow Palestinian-Americans living in the West Bank to enter the country and asked that Israel act to correct the problem that has arisen. A senior Israeli official noted that the American ambassador was told that the blockade was imposed on the West Bank for security reasons and added that he would look into what could be done to solve the problem. A senior American official said that the Biden administration intends to give Israel time to find a solution to the problem, but if the issue is not resolved within a few weeks, the US may freeze the program for Israeli citizens.