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Israel and its allies in U.S. Congress are ready to grant special status for Israeli travelers by allowing it to enter into a U.S. Visa Waiver program. There’s just one issue–Israel must first prove it can lessen discrimination against Palestinian-American flyers.
Israel will launch a pilot program in July to demonstrate its ability to provide equal treatment to all Americans, including those who identify as Palestinian-American, Muslim-American and Arab American, according to a report from Jewish newspaper the Times of Israel, which cited a U.S. and Israeli official.
Palestinians have long been denied access to Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport. While Israeli officials defend the extra security measures and denials of Palestinian travelers as necessary to combat terrorism, Arab advocates argue the Biden Administration shouldn’t allow visas waivers for Israel until the nation can demonstrate equal treatment for all on a permanent basis.
The move comes after a new far-right government has risen to power and as Israeli settlers orchestrate increasingly violent measures against Palestinians living under occupation. Multiple human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Israeli-based group B’Tselem have all accused Israel of apartheid.
Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have been accused of war crimes in the seemingly never-ending conflict.
Israel to provide equal treatment to Palestinian-American Travelers–for a trial period.
Back in March, Reuters reported that U.S. officials claimed Israel has not met requirements to join the Visa Waiver program. The designation would allow Israelis to travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days without a visa.
To change their minds, Israeli officials are working with U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides to establish a trial period in which Palestinian-Americans will face less restrictions during travel. Currently, Israel doesn’t allow Palestinians living under occupation access to their airport, and it also bars the Palestinian Authority from building its own airport. Palestinians of all nationalities often must to commute to Jordan and fly out of Amman with addititional fees and travel time, the Times of Israel reports.
During the trial period beginning in July, U.S. officials want Israel to prove a critical mass of Palestinian Americans are able to travel freely through their airport without discrimination. If successful, the move could impact up to 70,000 people.
Arab American organizations remain skeptical
U.S. Ambassador Nides specified that Israel would only be allowed into the visa waiver program if it demonstrates “reciprocity” by allowing equal treatment to all travelers. The move also includes a “snapback” provision in which Israel would be removed from the program if it fails to follow through.
Yet Arab American organizations who joined a Tuesday virtual call with Ambassador Nides remain skeptical of the move and warn that once Israel is entered into the program, U.S. leaders will not remove it even if it violates the rules.
“I appreciate that it that has been recognized that Palestinians in the US need to be able to travel to visit family or that Palestinian-Americans in the West Bank need to be able to travel through [Ben Gurion] Airport, but the problem is [much larger than] that,” said Arab American Institute President James Zogby.
“The problem is every port of entry and exit. It doesn’t do you much good to get in if you then are humiliated at every step along the way once you’re in,” Zogby said. “I’m still not convinced that there’s a clear enough understanding on the part of everybody involved in this process.”
Background on Israel-Palestine conflict
The main issue contributing to the constant conflict between Israel and Palestinians is the land itself. Both Israelis and Palestinians assert their right to self-determination and sovereignty over the same territory, particularly in the area known as historical Palestine, which includes present-day Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the establishment of Israeli settlements in these areas have been significant sources of tension. Palestinians argue that these actions violate international law, hinder the viability of a future Palestinian state, and exacerbate the daily hardships faced by Palestinians living under occupation.
Meanwhile, Israel has legitimate security concerns stemming from historical conflicts, wars, and acts of terrorism. The Israeli government argues that maintaining control over certain areas, checkpoints, and implementing security measures is necessary to protect its citizens. However, these security measures often restrict the movement and daily lives of Palestinians.
The Palestinian refugee issue is another major factor. The 1948 Arab-Israeli war and subsequent conflicts led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who became refugees. Palestinians demand the right of return for these refugees, while Israel is concerned about the demographic implications and the potential disruption to its Jewish majority.