DC said fuming at Cohen's 'audacious' premature announcement

FM: Israel joining US Visa Waiver Program; State Department: No decision made yet

Eli Cohen hails ostensible acceptance into program as ‘important news for all Israelis’; Washington is widely expected to announce decision later this week

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen seen during an interview at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, June 12, 2023. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen seen during an interview at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, June 12, 2023. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen declared Monday night that Israel would be joining the US’s Visa Waiver Program, calling it “important news for all Israelis.”

The US Embassy in Israel said in a statement, “The Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, will make a determination in the coming days.”

That announcement is expected to take place on Thursday, a senior Israeli official said last week.

“The Visa Waiver Program is not finalized and the MFA making such a statement was entirely premature,” a US Embassy spokesperson said.

Channel 12 reported that US officials told their Israeli counterparts that Washington was fuming at Cohen’s announcement.

Nonetheless, despite the anger, the Foreign Ministry announcement is not expected to influence the US eventual decision on the matter.

Under the VWP, “anyone who wants to will be able to fill out a form online, pay $21 and receive an entry permit within 72 hours,” Cohen said.

“This is a great achievement that is a testament to the close relations between Israel and our greatest ally, the US.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a media briefing at the State Department, August 15, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon).

Israel has sought to join the program, which enables citizens to travel to the United States without a visa, for decades. Currently, Israelis who do not hold citizenship in any of the 40 countries in the waiver program must apply for permission to travel to the United States, a process that typically results in a visa but can take a long time.

The US has been holding up entry over Israel’s treatment of Palestinian Americans. A key condition for entry into the VWP is a commitment by applying countries to grant equal travel rights to all US citizens.

Jerusalem recently took a series of steps to rectify this, the latest of which was an easing of travel guidelines for US citizens from the Gaza Strip, who will henceforth be able to enter Israel for short-term stays, visit the West Bank and travel abroad.

A similar improvement of conditions for West Bank Palestinians with US citizenship was finalized in July.

Israel would be the 41st country to join the VWP, the majority of which are in Europe.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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