Israel officially qualified for the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP) on Wednesday, allowing Israelis to travel freely to the U.S. rather than submitting an extensive visa application, following several key reforms to meet U.S. criteria.
Though Israel is a close U.S. ally and had sought to join the VWP for years, the U.S. insisted on reciprocal travel arrangements for Americans, especially for Palestinian-Americans, who often face increased security questioning and have been required in the past to enter Israel by land from Jordan, not by air through Ben-Gurion Airport.
A joint State Department and Department of Homeland Security statement said:
By November 30, 2023, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) will be updated to allow citizens and nationals of Israel to apply to travel to the United States for tourism or business purposes for up to 90 days without first obtaining a U.S. visa, a step which further strengthens the security, economic and people-to-people ties between the United States and Israel. Following updates in Israel’s travel policies, all U.S. citizens may request entry to Israel for up to 90 days for business, tourism, or transit without obtaining a visa.
In advance of this designation, Israel made updates to its entry policies to meet the VWP requirement to extend reciprocal privileges to all U.S. citizens without regard to national origin, religion, or ethnicity. DHS monitored Israel’s compliance with these requirements and engaged with Palestinian-Americans both living in the West Bank and living in the United States, who now have the ability to enter Israel visa free, and fly in and out of Ben Gurion airport, reducing barriers to travel for these Americans.
The Times of Israel noted: “In a briefing to Israeli journalists earlier in the day, US Embassy Chargé d’Affaires Stephanie Hallett offered a ‘mazal tov’ to Israel on becoming the 41st country to enter the VWP, calling it ‘yet another reflection of the strength of our bilateral security, economic and cultural relationship.'”
For Israel, the step is a major boost — especially for the high-tech industry, as many Israeli companies have operations in Silicon Valley, and many American companies have offices in Tel Aviv.
The VWP admission also represents a rare step forward for U.S.-Israel relations under the Biden administration, which have warmed in recent weeks.
Like President Barack Obama, Biden came to office seeking to take a harsh stance toward Israel. But geopolitical reality, such as the intransigence of the Palestinian leadership, intruded, and Biden is trying to broker a peace deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the new biography, Rhoda: ‘Comrade Kadalie, You Are Out of Order’. He is also the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.