(Bloomberg) -- Israel’s citizens will be permitted entry to the US without a visa from November, its foreign minister said, following a trial phase in which it had to show it would allow free entry to Palestinian Americans.
“Great news for the citizens of Israel ahead of the new year; as we promised, this coming November we will enter the visa exemption program for the USA,” Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said in a video announcement on X, formerly Twitter.
A spokesman for the US embassy in Jerusalem called the announcement “entirely premature” and said the “Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, will make a determination in the coming days.”
Citizens of 40 countries are permitted to enter the US for up to 90 days of tourism or business without a visa under its waiver program, according to the website of US Customs and Border Protection. For the rest of the world, long lines at US embassies and tough requirements have made an American visa a prized possession.
Israel, a close US ally, has sought for years to join the waiver program but was deemed ineligible because it couldn’t guarantee that all US passport-holders would be treated reciprocally when traveling in the other direction.
Citing security concerns, Israel has separate entry requirements, restrictions, and screening procedures in place for Palestinian Americans, who complain bitterly about visa denials, bureaucracy and hours of harassment when entering and leaving the country.
Israel began a trial period in July in which it’s had to demonstrate that it’s not discriminating against US passport-holders of Palestinian origin who pass through its airport or borders.
Since the testing period began, Israel has adjusted its entry requirements to allow all Palestinian Americans to get a 90-day pass and travel through Ben Gurion airport rather than a busy border crossing, easing the process.
However, critics have urged the US to reject Israel’s membership, saying the testing period was too short, Palestinian Americans are still treated differently and Israel’s future compliance would need to be monitored.
Admission to the visa program would be a victory for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who returned on Sunday from the US where he met President Joe Biden and discussed a possible deal in which Washington would offer security guarantees to Saudi Arabia in return for normalization with Israel.
The deal is also expected to include concessions to Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.
BNN Bloomberg Picks
What are economists expecting from Wednesday's Bank of Canada rate decision?
A timeline of Bank of Canada rate hikes
Where could gold prices go in 2024?
High rates untenable amid household 'debt crisis': Rosenberg
EXPLAINER: First Quantum, the Canadian miner at the heart of mining protests in Panama
Approach art investing as you would stocks and bonds: expert