Jerusalem24– Israel’s Channel 12 reports that the Biden administration has sent a letter to the Israeli government protesting new Israeli restrictions on foreign passport-holders, including US citizens, wishing to enter or reside in the West Bank.
Critics say the policy aims to restrict and track the travel of foreign nationals and control the Palestinian population.
The 97-page document, called “Procedure for Entry and Residence for Foreigners in Judea and Samaria Area,” replaces the current four-page document. Judea and Samaria is the term the Israeli government uses to refer to the occupied West Bank.
The policy was originally due to come into effect on 22 May 2022, but its implementation was delayed by 45 days due to a legal challenge in the Israeli High Court.
The Intercept revealed last Friday that at least two draft letters are currently circulating among legislators asking US officials to address Israel’s new restrictions on travel to the West Bank. A spokesperson for the US State Department told The Intercept that “We seek equal treatment and freedom to travel for all U.S. citizens regardless of national origin or ethnicity.”
According to The Intercept, US critics of the rules note that they come at a time when US officials can exercise particular leverage, as Israel is currently seeking to join the US visa waiver program, which allows visitors from participating countries to travel to the US for business or tourism without a visa.
In March, the US and Israel signed an information exchange agreement bringing Israel closer to approval for the program.
Participation in the visa waiver initiative is predicated on reciprocal treatment – meaning Palestinian-Americans seeking to enter Israel and the West Bank should expect the same guarantees as Israeli citizens traveling to the US.
“In the past, American citizens have complained to the State Department about discrimination, and the US response has always been that Israel has sovereign right to exclude people it doesn’t want,” Zaha Hassan, a human rights lawyer and fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The Intercept. “But the problem here is that Israel is not sovereign over the West Bank. It’s occupied territory.”
“This is actually a moment in which the U.S. could very well help to change policies that are impacting Americans attempting to work, study, and visit in the West Bank.”