US envoy pours cold water on Israeli visa waiver buzz

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

US Ambassador Tom Nides appears to be attempting to curb Jerusalem’s excitement over progress on adding Israel to the US Visa Waiver Program.

“Seeing some news in Israel on the Visa Waiver Program. We still have lots of work to do,” Nides tweets.

On Sunday, a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel that the Interior Ministry notified US counterparts last week that Israel will ease restrictions on the entry of American citizens of Palestinian descent at Ben Gurion Airport. The official said the move would address a key barrier that has prevented Israel from becoming the 40th country to join the waiver program.

However, the policy will not extend to the thousands of Palestinians who hold both American citizenship and Palestinian ID cards, the senior Israeli official clarified.

In order to have the visa requirement waived, countries must provide reciprocal privileges to all US passport holders at all points of entry. For Israel, it would also mean allowing thousands of US citizens living in the West Bank and Gaza to enter country without a visa — something that Israeli authorities do not currently allow.

Nides avoids highlighting the apparent gaps that remain between the sides in his tweet, adding, “I’m thankful to have a great partner for this in [Interior Minister] Ayelet Shaked. Looking forward to rolling up our sleeves together to help Israel meet all the requirements.”

Shaked also seeks to gloss over any disagreements, tweeting, “thank you @USAmbIsrael for your partnership and leadership on this important initiative. I’m eager and optimistic to work together and to make this change that so many have waited to see.”

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