Israel in U.S. Visa Talks, Eyes Easing Access for Arab-Americans

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -

Israel is prepared to permit Palestinian-American dual nationals to transit its territory as part of an emerging U.S. visa waiver deal for its citizens, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said on Tuesday.

Palestinians coming in from abroad generally travel through Jordan and the Israeli-run Yehudah and Shomron boundary, or through Egypt’s Sinai desert, which borders Gaza.

Giving Palestinian-Americans domiciled in the territories an Israel-transit option “is a demand by the Americans going back many years,” Shaked said.

“The Shin Bet can handle it, and in the context of the visa waivers – if that process does indeed happen – an American who also has Palestinian citizenship will be able to enter Israel like any American,” she told reporters. The deal could be concluded in Feb. 2023, she added.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price, discussing the visa waiver talks on Dec. 28, said Washington would “continue to work with Israel toward fulfilling the equal treatment of all Americans … seeking to enter or transit through Israel.”

Shaked said her staff was also addressing U.S. complaints that Arab-Americans are subject to unusually intrusive questioning by Israeli airport security. Among proposals, she said, was for security agents to receive airline passenger lists 12 hours in advance, to enable more selective screening.

Another condition for U.S. visa waiver is reducing the current Israeli applicant refusal rate to 3%, both sides say.

Shaked said 40% of those rejected filled in application forms incorrectly, and that her ministry was considering offering instructional materials to rectify this.