Washington is demanding Palestinians with American citizenship be allowed to fly out of Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, as a precondition for being admitted into the US visa waiver program, Hadashot news (formerly Channel 2) reported Monday.
Currently, all Palestinians traveling abroad do so via Jordan, using the Allenby Bridge border crossing administered by Israeli authorities.
According to Hadashot news, Israel’s security establishment is opposed to the demand. Officials are said to be concerned over general security threats, but also of the legal precedent — and of the likelihood of Israel being accused of a double standard towards Palestinians with other dual nationalities.
Another issue holding up Israel’s entry into the program is the requirement that visa refusals be under 3 percent. Hadashot reported that one possibility being considered is that the waiver program not apply to the age group considered problematic by US authorities — young Israelis aged 21-30 who often seek to work in America illegally.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said earlier Monday that Israel was on the brink of completing a visa waiver agreement with Washington.
Israel and pro-Israel groups have pushed for Israel’s entry into the program, which allows for 90-day visits for business or tourism. The program is seen as a facilitator for trade.
Shaked said a number of hurdles holding up Israeli compliance with US visa waiver requirements were being cleared, without providing details.
“We are finalizing a deal to cancel the visas,” Shaked tweeted. “Ever since I took up the post we have been working with the Americans to join the group of select countries whose citizens are exempt from obtaining an entry visa to the USA. We found the balance between protecting the privacy of Israeli citizens and the demands of the Americans.”
A key issue is said to concern US requirements for access to Israeli fingerprint records.
Under the current Biometric Database Law there is a sweeping prohibition on transferring details such as fingerprints to foreign authorities unless it’s for a specific criminal investigation. Foreign authorities are also prevented from keeping the information or passing it on to other entities.
Shaked has indicated that only the fingerprints of those with a criminal record would be passed on to the Americans, an arrangement that could pave the way to the visa exemptions program.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.