US and Israel Forge Closer Ties as VWP Inclusion Announcement Looms
Recently, Israel’s Foreign Minister, Eli Cohen, announced that the country is set to join the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP), a significant move that has been decades in the making. This program allows citizens from certain countries to travel to the US without obtaining a visa, simplifying travel for business, tourism, and short-term visits.
Though the US State Department has not yet confirmed this decision, it is expected to do so by the end of the week. Once part of the VWP, prospective travelers can apply for an entry permit online, paying a fee of $21, and typically receiving the permit within 72 hours.
Israel’s inclusion in the VWP is a significant achievement, indicative of the close relationship between the two countries. Currently, Israelis who are not citizens of a VWP country must apply for a visa to travel to the US, a process that can be time-consuming and cumbersome.
The Road to VWP Inclusion: Addressing Past Obstacles
The journey to VWP inclusion has not been straightforward for Israel, with the US previously delaying Israel’s entry due to concerns about Israel’s treatment of Palestinian Americans. A key requirement for joining the VWP is that the applicant country must guarantee equal travel rights to all US citizens, an area in which Israel has faced criticism in the past.
In response to these concerns, Israel has undertaken efforts to address this issue. This includes easing travel restrictions for US citizens from the Gaza Strip, who can now enter Israel for short stays, visit the West Bank, and travel abroad. Similar measures for West Bank Palestinians with US citizenship were finalized in July.
Implications of VWP Membership: A New Chapter in US-Israel Relations
If approved, Israel would become the 41st member of the VWP, joining the ranks of mostly European nations. This represents a new chapter in US-Israel relations, demonstrating the close ties and mutual trust between the two nations.
However, the move is not without controversy. Some rights advocates have expressed concerns about Israel’s treatment of Arab Americans and Palestinians, calling into question whether Israel will uphold its commitment to provide equal travel rights to all US citizens. These concerns will likely continue to be a focus of discussion as Israel’s VWP membership progresses.
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