The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s events as they unfolded.
Hebrew media reports that Yair Lapid will have National Security Council chairman Eyal Hulata, Cabinet Secretary Shalom Shlomo and Military Secretary Avi Gil stay on in their posts when the foreign minister replaces Naftali Bennett as premier as early as next week.
However, Lapid plans to bring his diplomatic adviser Yair Zivan with him to the Prime Minister’s Office along with spokesman Roy Konkol, Channel 13 reports.
Polls released by Channels 11, 12 and 13 predict that another election won’t change the makeup between the pro- and anti-Netanyahu blocs enough to end the deadlock that has plagued Israel’s political system for over three years.
The Likud-led bloc — which also includes the Religious Zionism, Shas and United Torah Judaism parties — does stand to gain ground from its current 52 seats, but none of three polls see them picking up a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
Channel 11 and 12 polls put them at 59 while Channel 13’s survey has them at 60. All three polls show the Likud would be by far the largest party in the Knesset if elections were held today, projecting Benjamin Netanyahu’s party to win 35 or 36 seats.
The far-right Religious Zionism party — thanks to the popularity of neo-Kahanist MK Itamar Ben Gvir — would jump to nine seats, according to all three polls.
The left-wing Meretz party, which has taken a beating over the conduct of its rebel MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, doesn’t cross the 3.25 percent electoral, according to the Channel 13 poll, while Channel 11 and 12 have the party barely squeaking into the Knesset with four seats.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party would receive either four or five seats, according to the polls, with Channel 12’s predicting that the faction’s voters would turn to center and center-left parties if the premier decides not to run at all.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who is slated to become interim prime minister as early as next week, would receive between 20 and 22 seats, according to the three network polls, improving from his current 17.
The Islamist Ra’am party, which became the first independent Arab party to join a coalition, is expected to hold its ground at four seats, the polls indicated.
Similar results were given for just about every other party in the current Knesset, which are expected to remain close to their current seat-count total. Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party, which has not crossed the threshold in a number of recent polls, is predicted to barely bridge the 3.25% minimum, according to all three polls.
The networks also asked respondents who they felt was most suited to serve as prime minister. Forty-seven percent of respondents said Netanyahu, 31% said Lapid, 18% said they didn’t know and four percent said none of the given options. Lapid’s numbers jumped by six percent since the last time Channel 12 asked that question several days ago — before it was revealed that he would be replacing Bennett as premier.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid just got off the phone with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in what was their first call since Israeli politics took a nosedive toward another election, in a maneuver that will allow the Yesh Atid leader to become interim prime minister as early as next week.
Lapid’s office says the two spoke about US President Joe Biden’s July 13 trip to Israel, which will see Lapid host him as premier, rather than Naftali Bennett, due to the change in guard.
“The visit is an opportunity to emphasize the President’s deep personal connection to Israel, to America’s commitment to Israel’s security, and to strengthening Israel in the region,” Lapid tweets. “The visit has significant implications for the region and for the struggle against Iran, and great potential to significantly upgrade regional stability and security.”
Lapid says he also updated Blinken on his upcoming trip to Turkey “and on the joint activity with the Turkish government against terrorism.”
Haredi bloc reportedly pressing Likud to form alternative coalition rather than risk another election
The ultra-Orthodox parties are reportedly pressing Likud to try and form an alternative coalition in the current Knesset in a last-ditch effort to prevent its dispersal, which would initiate snap elections.
The Ynet news site says the Haredi parties are concerned about losing ground to the far-right Religious Zionism party, but they aren’t the only ones who would prefer to avoid another election. Channel 12 adds that there are backbenchers in the Likud as well as the Religious Zionism party who are worried about losing their jobs if elections are called and they fail to make it into the next Knesset.
The chances of an alternative government are particularly low, given that the bloc of parties who refuse to join a coalition led by Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu remains the same, robbing the former premier of a majority.
However, Channel 12 reports that Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked has spent much of the day in Morocco making phone calls to just about anyone she can think of who might be willing to assist in the effort.
The Haredi pressure on Likud may explain the leaks in Hebrew media that the party is in talks with Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz — a claim that the latter has vehemently denied. However, the reports allow Likud to claim that they are at least trying to heed the Haredi demand, even if that is not really the case, Ynet speculates.
A Palestinian man has died after being stabbed in a brawl with Israeli settlers near the Palestinian village of Iskaka, close to Ariel, according to the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry.
A group of Israeli settlers reported being attacked in the area by a large group of around 40 Palestinians with stones and clubs between the settlements of Nofei Nehemiah and Ariel, according to the Samaria Regional Council.
“An Arab was injured in the brawl and evacuated [for medical treatment]. The rioters stole bags and equipment from the travelers,” the Rescuers Without Borders emergency service said.
There was no immediate comment from Israel Police’s West Bank division.
The deceased Palestinian was identified by Palestinian health officials as Ali Hassan Harb.
The Israel Teachers Union announces that instructors will not be showing up to school at all tomorrow, as labor negotiations with the Finance Ministry take a turn for the worse.
Teachers have already been carrying out a partial strike for several days over wage disputes, starting classes several hours late.
The latest decision by union head Yaffa Ben David will apply to daycares and elementary schools, while special education facilities will continue to operate as normal. High schools concluded classes for the summer yesterday.
“We have been negotiating with Finance Ministry officials for six months, but we have yet to receive even one concrete proposal,” Ben David claims in a statement announcing the move.
Israel has carried out a spate of covert operations inside Iran in recent months, a senior Biden administration official tells CNN, further removing the cloud over those responsible for the mysterious attacks against nuclear and military-related targets in the Islamic Republic.
“The situation with Iran is getting very hot,” the official tells CNN, referencing Iran’s recent decision to dismantle several monitoring cameras at one of its nuclear sites in addition to the spate of attacks carried out by Israel.
Iranian ships also came within 50 years of a pair of US Navy vessels in the Strait of Hormuz yesterday in an “unsafe and unprofessional manner,” the US said in a statement to CNN.
The official tells the network that US President Joe Biden’s July trip to the Mideast will focus on assuring allies that the administration is taking the Iranian threat seriously.
Israel lobbied the US government heavily for Biden to travel to Saudi Arabia and meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The president said last week that he won’t hold a one-on-one meeting with MBS while in Jeddah next month.
“We are committed to consulting closely with our regional partners regarding US policy on Iran, and in broad terms, we support dialogue among the countries in the region on issues of regional security and stability,” says a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council
The US plans to expand economic sanctions and enforcement measures against Iran if talks to revive the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action fall through, sources familiar with the matter tell CNN, adding that the administration has been seeking to build a coalition of countries in the Mideast — including Israel and the Gulf states — that will work together to combat Iran.
The hope in Washington is that this coalition will take some of the pressure off the US to act alone against Iran.
Israel is not waiting for such a coalition to materialize though, with several current and former officials telling CNN that it has expanded its covert attacks on nuclear-related targets in Iran, without giving the US a heads up. CNN does not specify whether its sources are American, Israeli or from another country.
The network does cite a US official who says that Israel was behind the assassination of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Colonel Hassan Sayyad Khodaei last month.
Nonetheless, the Biden administration has not directly asked Israel to cease the operations, which ostensibly makes it more unlikely that Iran will agree to return to compliance with JCPOA, the officials told CNN.
CNN’s revelations contradict those of other news sites, which have reported that Israel notifies the US of such operations ahead of time.
The officials speaking to CNN downplayed the possibility of a conventional war breaking out between Iran and Israel, despite the uptick in attacks. However, they acknowledged that a miscalculation by either side could lead to matters spiraling out of control.
Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej tells Army Radio that he hasn’t yet decided whether he’ll run again in the next election slated to take place this fall.
Frej has been a longtime member of the Meretz party and a devoted member of the government who sought to prevent its downfall. However, he also suffered a stroke earlier this year, which may be influencing his decision-making process.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland pledges during a visit to Ukraine to help prosecute war crimes committed since the Russian invasion in late February.
“I’m here to express the unwavering support of the United States for the people of Ukraine in the midst of the unprovoked and unjust Russian invasion,” Garland tells reporters after meeting with Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova near the Polish-Ukrainian border.
“I’m here to continue our discussions, myself and the prosecutor general, of the actions that the United States is taking to assist the Ukrainian authorities in holding accountable those responsible for the atrocities or the war crimes that the entire world has seen,” he says in remarks broadcast on Fox News.
“The United States is sending an unmistakable message — there is no place to hide,” Garland says. “We and our partners will pursue every avenue available to ensure that those who are responsible for these atrocities are held accountable.”
Garland is stopping in Ukraine on his way to the US-EU ministerial meeting in Paris.
Nearly four months after Russia invaded Ukraine, Kyiv says it has identified thousands of suspected war crimes cases.
Most notorious have been the allegations of wanton murder of scores of civilians in Bucha, just outside the Ukrainian capital.
Lawmakers investigating the January 2021 assault on the US Capitol are due to focus at a hearing today on the pressure that former US president Donald Trump mounted on state officials to overturn the 2020 election.
The presentation launches a third week of summer hearings in which the panel has set out its initial findings that Trump led a multi-pronged conspiracy to overturn the 2020 presidential election, culminating in the insurrection in Washington.
Committee aides say they have evidence that Trump and his allies were personally involved in pushing Republican-controlled legislatures to flip the results in several swing states, away from Joe Biden and into Trump’s column.
The panel will hear from several top Republican state officials who found themselves cajoled by the Trump campaign to thwart the will of millions of voters based on bogus claims of election fraud.
“Donald Trump knew that there was no widespread fraud — he knew that those claims were baseless, he knew that the numbers simply weren’t there to potentially overturn the election — and he continued to drive these campaigns anyway,” a committee aide says.
“He knew they were false and it became increasingly clear that this pressure campaign could lead to violence, and he continued to do it anyway.”
Israel’s embassy in Kyiv will be opening fully over the course of the week, Ambassador Michael Brodsky tells The Times of Israel.
The embassy staff was initially moved to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on February 21, three days before the start of the Russian invasion. They were relocated five days later to a hotel in the Polish border city of Przemysl, where they spent much of their time at the often chaotic border crossings helping Israeli citizens flee the country.
On May 17, Brodsky led a team of four Israeli diplomats to Kyiv to temporarily reopen the embassy and raise the country’s flag.
Embassy reopenings in Ukraine’s capital underscore the scope of Moscow’s failures in the war. Russia sought to take Kyiv in the opening stage of the invasion, but retreated with heavy losses after Ukrainian forces successfully held off the attack.
“The embassy begins providing consular services today for the first time since the start of the war,” he says.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Hossein Salami says that Israel is undergoing a political collapse as the government announced that it will dissolve parliament and call fresh elections.
The US, meanwhile, is trying to extract itself from the region without losing face, Salami claims.
“If you follow the news, you will see that the Zionist regime is in political collapse,” Salami said at a military ceremony in Tehran, the semi-official Fars news service report. “And the United States seeks a dignified escape from the Islamic world.”
Iran’s enemies are “helpless, incapable and hopeless in pursuing their goals,” he says.
Salami adds that Iran is becoming stronger and “in the near future, we will be among the world powers,” the Tasnim news service reported.
Leaders of the opposition’s right-wing and religious parties have sent a letter to Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, requesting that she not approve any senior appointments during the period between the dispersal of the Knesset and the swearing-in of a new government after the expected fall election.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz had hoped to appoint the next chief of the Israel Defense Forces ahead of the anticipated coalition collapse, but it appears he will not manage to do so in time, since the Knesset is set to disperse as early as next week.
Permanent appointments of senior officials — such as the chief of police or military — have not traditionally been made during the terms of caretaker governments. Between 2018 and 2020, Israel Police had an acting commissioner amid several rounds of inconclusive elections.
The attorney general can still evaluate the propriety of approving permanent appointments during an interim government, if ones are made. As a result, the opposition parties are demanding Baharav-Miara not allow it under any circumstances until the next government is sworn in.
Gantz was scheduled to meet with two of the three IDF chief candidates today. The four-year tenure of the current IDF chief of general staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, is expected to end in January 2023.
During a briefing shortly after the letter was published, Gantz vows to continue the process of nominating the next IDF chief.
“I plan, as much as possible, to continue to advance this process… and I will let myself say that there is nobody in Israel who knows the candidates better than me,” Gantz says.
Hamas has decided to restore ties with Syria after 10 years of disconnect over the Assad regime’s crackdown on rebels, two sources from the Gaza-ruling terror group tell Reuters.
The sides have held several “high-profile meetings to achieve that goal,” one source says.
Hamas had publicly endorsed the revolt against Syrian President Bashar Assad, after which the terror group was forced to vacate its Damascus headquarters. The move angered Iran, with which Hamas also temporarily cut ties.
The Palestinian Authority reacts with indifference on Tuesday to the apparent collapse of Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid’s so-called “change government,” with officials saying they expect little progress on peace regardless of who sits in the Israeli prime minister’s office.
“The question is — will we see a political horizon? I don’t believe we will see a dramatic change, whether Netanyahu, or Lapid, or Bennett is in charge,” says senior Palestinian official Azzam al-Ahmad, a member of the executive leadership of the Fatah party and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Bennett and Lapid announced the early demise of the fragile, fractious Israeli government on Sunday night, following months of coalition infighting. Coalition leaders aim to begin the process of dissolving the Knesset on Wednesday, with Lapid to be named prime minister of the interim caretaker government.
If lawmakers vote to dissolve the Knesset, Israel’s fifth elections in three and a half years will likely be held in October or November. The vote could see the return of long-ruling former premier Benjamin Netanyahu at the head of a hard-right coalition.
“We weren’t shocked by the fall of the coalition, of course. And whoever comes next will be much the same, whether Netanyahu or someone else,” says another senior Fatah official.
Al-Ahmad dismisses what the Bennett-Lapid government had offered the Palestinians as “crumbs.”
“We don’t want economic ‘achievements’ at the expense of a political process. That’s just unacceptable. Family unification, address changes — this is all immaterial. It doesn’t impact anything,” says al-Ahmad.
Yair Pines announces that he is stepping down from his post as director of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office.
The move is not particularly surprising, given that Pines was a Bennett appointee and the premier will be stepping down as early as next week in order to be replaced by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who will likely bring his own staff.
Pines is the latest in a growing list of Bennett aides who have resigned in recent months, following diplomatic adviser Shimrit Meir and chief-of-staff Tal Gan Zvi.
Hollywood star Ben Stiller meets Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv, hailing the comedian-turned-president as “my hero” for rallying the world’s support for Ukraine in the face of Russia’s invasion.
“It’s a great honor for me… you’re my hero!” says Stiller, a UN goodwill ambassador who is meeting the Ukrainian leader on World Refugee Day.
“What you’ve done, the way that you’ve rallied the country, the world, it’s really inspiring,” says the 56-year-old American comedian referring to Zelensky’s countless speeches to audiences around the world to rally support for his embattled country.
Footage of their meeting is released by Zelensky’s office.
Earlier today, Stiller visited the Kyiv suburb of Irpin, the scene of fierce battles early on in the invasion and the closest Moscow’s army got to the capital since it sent troops into Ukraine in February.
“I feel it’s hard to understand what’s actually going on here if you haven’t been here,” he tells Zelensky.
“I was in Irpin this morning… and the actual level of destruction, you see it on TV, you see it on social media, but it’s something else to actually see it, feel it and then to talk to the people,” he says.
Speaking in English, Zelensky thanks Stiller for coming and told him it was “very important” for him to keep reminding people what was going on in Ukraine.
“It’s very important for us that people don’t forget. It’s not interesting to speak about the war every day… but for us it’s very important,” the Ukrainian leader tells him.
The pair also acknowledges their shared interest as comedy actors.
“You quit a great acting career,” says Stiller, who is best known for his comedy roles in “Meet the Parents” and the “Night at the Museum” films, in a nod to Zelensky’s former career as a comedy actor.
“Not as great as yours,” Zelensky retorts, both laughing.
Before being elected in 2019, Zelensky was best known for his role in “Servant of the People,” a comedy satire in which he played a high school teacher who unexpectedly becomes Ukraine’s president.
Likud sources are leaking to several Hebrew media outlets that the party is seeking to form an alternative coalition within the current Knesset before the coalition manages to disperse parliament and initiate snap elections.
The Ynet news site quotes one of those “sources” who says that the party is aiming to convince Defense Minister Benny Gantz to jump ship and join them.
Gantz broke countless election promises by agreeing to form a coalition led by Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu in 2020. Netanyahu collapsed that government after less than a year in order to prevent Gantz from replacing him as premier in their agreed-upon rotation.
The Likud source tells Ynet that in order to build trust with Gantz, Netanyahu is willing to allow the Blue and White chairman to serve first as prime minister in a rotation deal.
Blue and White responds to the report by dismissing it entirely as a politically-motivated hit aimed at delegitimizing Gantz.
“There are no contacts [with Likud], no discussions, nor is there anything to talk about,” Blue and White tweets.
Israel leads the world in frequency of elections since 1996, according to data compiled by the Israel Democracy Institute.
Between 1996 and 2022, Israel held an election every 2.40 years — more regularly than Greece (2.53), Spain (2.96), Canada (3.04), the UK (3.77) and Italy (4.38).
Israel was in seventh place until April 2019 when it began the cycle of what will be five elections in under four years.
Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi announces that she too will not run in the upcoming Knesset elections.
Rinawie Zoabi was not expected to make another run on the Meretz list, where she is considered persona non grata after several votes in recent months that helped down coalition-backed legislation. But in an interview with the Makan public broadcaster, she rules out running on the slate of a majority-Arab party as well.
Rinawie Zoabi was recruited before the previous election by Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz, who was looking to reserve a spot on the left-wing party’s list for an Arab woman. But the union never really took off, as Rinawie Zoabi had significant qualms about being part of the ruling coalition over its policies vis a vis the Palestinians.
She was initially tapped to become the next Israeli consul general in Shanghai in a deal meant to keep her out of the Knesset, but the agreement fell through last month amid her break with the coalition.
Rinawie Zoabi’s announcement comes shortly after an identical one from Ra’am MK Mazen Ghanaim, another Arab coalition lawmaker who had been voting against the ruling bloc on key legislation.
Far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir tells Army Radio that he does not intent to seek to replace Bezalel Smotrich as the leader of the Religious Zionism party.
Ben Gvir is currently No. 3 on the party list thanks to a merger deal inked ahead of the previous election with Smotrich’s National Union party. However, Ben Gvir’s popularity has skyrocketed among far-right Israelis, particularly ultra-Orthodox ones since his entry into the Knesset.
While he cedes the top seat to Smotrich, Ben Gvir tells Army Radio that they will work together to form a list that better incorporates his extremist Otzma Yehudit party.
Ben Gvir’s entry into the Knesset was ensured by a merger brokered by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Despite the unfolding drama around the dissolution of the governing coalition, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will fly to Ankara on Thursday to meet his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Foreign Ministry announces.
As of this morning, it was still unclear whether Lapid, who could become prime minister as early as next week, would make the trip. The visit was announced Sunday before coalition leaders announced their plan to dissolve the Knesset.
Lapid and Cavusoglu are slated to discuss cooperation on thwarting Iranian attempts to harm Israeli travelers in Turkey, as revenge for the killing of Iranian officers inside Iran.
There is also speculation that the sides may discuss returning ambassadors to each other’s capitals.
Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz will join Lapid on the visit.
Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar tells the Ynet news site that the next election will likely produce the same results as the previous ones, with the right-wing, religious bloc led by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu failing to secure a majority needed to form a coalition.
“Despite all his [media] spin, he will not have 61, just as he did after the previous election,” Sa’ar says.
The New Hope chairman says that there was no escaping the upcoming election, though, as it is not possible to run a government with a 56-MK coalition. Sa’ar is referring to the fact that several members of what once was a 61-MK coalition have refused to vote with the ruling bloc on key legislation, leading to the leadership’s decision to submit legislation to disband parliament.
Sa’ar reiterates that he will not serve in a government led by Netanyahu.
Rebel coalition lawmaker Mazen Ghanaim (Ra’am) announces that he will not run in the upcoming Knesset election.
The decision was expected because Ghanaim plans to run for mayor of his town of Sakhnin.
“I will not run in the upcoming Knesset elections. This is a decision I made a long time ago, and I do not regret not resigning earlier,” he says, referring to calls for him to step down by coalition members who were furious over Ghanaim’s several votes against government-backed legislation in recent months.
Ghanaim was said to have been essential in securing Ra’am’s entry into the Knesset last election, thanks to his whipping of the vote in Sakhnin where the Islamist party received nearly 10,000 ballots. However, Ghanaim was not a natural fit in the party, having previously been a member of the secular, nationalist Balad faction.
Police say a Palestinian man armed with a knife turned himself in to officers near Jerusalem’s Temple Mount yesterday after he initially planned a stabbing attack.
According to police, the 37-year-old from the West Bank town of Anata regretted his alleged plan to stab Israelis in the area.
He is to be brought before a court today to have his custody extended.
Iran is claiming that it has arrested Mossad agents who were planning to assassinate nuclear scientists.
Its announcement does not specify their nationalities or how many people had been detained.
“The arrest of these Mossad operatives came after a complicated intelligence operation that lasted for eight months of monitoring them,” says Mehdi Shamsabadi, the prosecutor general of Sistan and Baluchestan.
Shamsabadi says the investigation is ongoing and that the individuals will be charged in the near future, Iran’s Mehr News reports.
Three people were also arrested two months ago on suspicion of leaking classified information related to Iran’s nuclear program.
The three — named as M.S., M.Z. and A-Gh — were linked to Israeli intelligence services, according to Mehr News.
One of those arrested was a woman who held a government position in an Iranian province but had previously worked for an organization linked to the presidency. Another individual arrested had tried to access confidential information through “administrative and executive authorities.”
Iran often detains individuals it claims are linked to foreign intelligence services without providing any evidence.
Two government ministers say the coalition may seek to quickly pass a bill that would bar a lawmaker charged with a serious crime from becoming prime minister, which if approved would prevent former premier MK Benjamin Netanyahu from returning to power.
The bill would be joined to a imminent vote on dissolving the Knesset, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman and Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin say separately.
Speaking at an economics conference in Jerusalem, Liberman blames the collapse of the government and the forcing of early elections on Netanyahu, who is on trial for three graft cases including a charge of bribery.
“These elections are the result of the intrigues, lies and harassment of one man, and his name is Benjamin Netanyahu,” Liberman says. “The main goal is to prevent him from returning to power.”
Elkin tells the Kan public broadcaster that his New Hope party backs the bill and that it had not been passed so far because Bennett’s Yamina party had vetoed it.
“It could be that there will be efforts to legislate it now. I don’t know if it is too late,” Elkin says.
Earlier this week, Channel 12 News reported that Bennett opposed passing the criminal offense bill because he was worried it might push Yamina party MK Nir Orbach, who had already declared he was siding with the opposition, to go even further and support an opposition bill to disperse the Knesset. By announcing that the government itself would dissolve parliament, Bennett apparently removed the obstacle to Yamina backing the bill.
As the government moves forward with plans to dissolve the Knesset, a senior official in the US embassy warns that the move will likely cause a delay in efforts to add Israel into the US Visa Waiver Program.
“That will be up to the Knesset,” the official tells The Times of Israel. “There are some pieces of legislation that are in the Knesset that are in various stages of being introduced or being read, and it’ll be up to the caretaker government to determine whether those pieces of legislation are enough of national interest to continue to advance, or if they need to wait for the fall.”
One of the steps needed to ensure entry into the VWP is the passing of legislation granting the US limited access to the participating country’s criminal records — a measure that won’t be possible to fulfill once the Knesset disperses itself for an election campaign.
Still, important steps have been made. “In the last 6 or 7 months, Israel has made more progress on getting into the Visa Waiver than they have in previous umpteen years they’ve been talking about it,” says the official. “The current government has taken a lot of strides forward answering the requirements of Homeland Security which really runs Visa Waiver Program.”
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides have expressed hope that Israel would be able to join the VWP by the end of the year or by early 2023, but that is now looking far less likely.
— Ambassador Tom Nides (@USAmbIsrael) April 13, 2022
Another essential step required for entry is lowering the visa application rejection rate to below three percent by the end of the fiscal year in September. Israel’s rejection rate in 2020 stood at roughly 6.25%, says the official due largely to mistakes applicants made in filling out their visa forms.
The US still does not have data for the 2021 rejection rate.
The official says that the US has noted improvements in rejection rates following a public campaign launched by the Israeli government urging Israelis to carefully fill out their forms and follow up with the embassy if they are notified of errors in their applications.
“But it is still too early to bet whether Israel will indeed fall below 3% refusal rate,” the embassy official says, adding that it takes time for the US to gather the final figures.
While Shaked had suggested in the past that the September deadline provided Israel with enough time to complete the process by the end of the year, it will still take several months after the end of the fiscal year for the US to adjudicate the new visa rejection rate, and it won’t likely be available until the spring of 2023.
If Israel fails to drop its rejection rate below three percent this year, it will have to wait another year to apply for entry into the VWP.
There has been a significant backlog at the US embassy that has led to Israelis waiting as long as a year in order to secure an interview required to apply for a visa.
The official says some of this is due to the fact that some people are requesting interviews even though they could complete the process online, adding that the pandemic also slowed down the process significantly.
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