The United States will be admitting Israel into its Visa Waiver Program, or VWP, which will allow the entry of Israeli citizens into the country without a visa for up to 90 days, beginning November 30.
The U.S.-Israel relationship has been tested recently by Washington's vocal opposition to Israel's judiciary overhaul plan and its policy toward Palestinians. This decision, however, is seen as a step forward for the Biden administration's relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, according to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
"The designation of Israel into the Visa Waiver Program is an important recognition of our shared security interests and the close cooperation between our two countries," Mayorkas said in a statement.
"This designation, which represents over a decade of work and coordination between the United States and Israel, will enhance our two nations' collaboration on counterterrorism, law enforcement, and our other common priorities. Israel's entry into the Visa Waiver Program, and the stringent requirements it entails, will make both of our nations more secure."
The decision also allows U.S. travelers to enter Israel for 90 days without first obtaining a visa.
To be admitted into the VWP, the United States requires countries to meet requirements on issues such as counterterrorism, law enforcement, immigration enforcement, document security and border management. Countries must also treat all U.S. travelers equally, regardless of other passports they hold.
This means U.S. citizens who also hold Palestinian passports would need to be granted free passage at Ben Gurion Airport.
"This important achievement will enhance freedom of movement for U.S. citizens, including those living in the Palestinian Territories or traveling to and from them," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in the joint statement with Mayorkas.
Granting Israel access to the VWP has been met with backlash from some Palestinians who claim Israel has discriminated against and harassed Arab Americans at the border.
Some Democratic lawmakers have also spoken out against Israel's admission into the program, alleging the country has failed to meet the requirement to treat all American citizens equally, regardless of other passports held.
"Adherence to this important American tenet of reciprocity and equal treatment of all U.S. citizens is critical to the integrity of the Visa Waiver Program, and we are deeply concerned with the administration's decision to move forward in violation of that principle," said Senators Chris Van Hollen, Brian Schatz, Jeff Merkley and Peter Welch in a joint statement.
"We will carefully monitor the situation to determine whether Americans continue to face discrimination based on their ethnicity, national origin, or religion."
J Street, the Washington-based liberal Jewish advocacy group, called Wednesday's move a step in the right direction but expressed concern that Israel "does not meet the criteria for entry that every other country must meet."
"The Memorandum of Understanding signed with Israel in July does not require it to fully implement one system that all U.S. citizen visitors, including those who Israel deems residents of the West Bank, can use for purposes of visa waiver travel until May 1, 2024," J Street said in a statement.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday to halt Israel's acceptance into the program. The motion to file suit was denied by a U.S. judge in Detroit, as proper notice of a lawsuit was not given to the Department of Homeland Security.