By Amit Acco, Partner |

Update 21 August 2023: More than 12,000 Palestinian-Americans living in the West Bank have entered Israel in recent weeks thanks to the easing of their travel arrangements, which the state applied as part of its efforts to be accepted into the U.S. visa waiver program, according to Israeli security services.

As part of the negotiations for its acceptance into the Visa Waiver Program, Israel responded positively to the American side’s request to ensure equal access to all U.S. citizens at the points of entry and exit from the country — including those living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. As part of its response, the government agreed to allow any American to obtain a tourist visa that allows them to stay in Israel for 90 days, including those who simultaneously hold a Palestinian ID card.

So far, the policy has only applied to Palestinian-Americans living in the West Bank. However, Israel has pledged that in mid-September it will also apply the easing of restrictions to several hundred Palestinian-Americans living in Gaza. In accordance with the American demand, Israel may examine the security background of those Americans and deny entry to those who engaged in or engaged in terrorism, but their interrogation process should not be unusual compared to examinations of other American citizens.

According to briefing made by the US Embassy in Jerusalem this week, American citizens who have a driver’s license recognized by Israel can drive in Israel, even if they also have a Palestinian ID card. This directive is especially relevant for Americans of Palestinian origin who land at Ben Gurion Airport and wish to rent a car for the period of their visit.

Nevertheless, it seems that the pre conditions for US visa waiver for Israeli nationals still require additional masseruse to be taken by the Israeli government. According to the US Deputy Speaker Patel

“Israel’s entry into the visa waiver program will not happen and is not going to happen until we see reciprocity and the many preconditions we have been talking about for a long time. Things like normalization and regional integration. We see this as a good thing and an important opportunity to continue cooperating in several areas, including trade between people and the flow of goods and ideas.”

Update 09 August 2023: Israel is set to implement additional travel relaxations for Palestinian Americans residing in the Gaza Strip. Starting September 15, Palestinian Americans from Gaza, who meet specific security prerequisites, will be granted the option to enter Israel on a tourist visa and depart from the Ben-Gurion International Airport, according to Mr. Bringer, the overseer of the Visa Waiver pilot at Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority. Since the implementation of the process, more than 2,500 Palestinian Americans have either visited or passed through Ben Gurion Airport.

Update 05 August 2023: During the initial week of Israel’s six-week experimental phase of relaxing entry requirements, more than 2,000 Palestinian Americans have either visited or passed through Ben Gurion Airport.

Update 30 July 2023: Israel has recently published a significant and binding regulation pertaining to the entry of United States nationals into its territory. This new regulation, titled “Reciprocal Privileges with the USA, in Border Control” aims to establish a framework for mutual benefits and streamlined processes at border crossings between the two nations. the guidelines are intended to specify the method of arranging for entry of US citizens who wish to come to Israel and pass through Israel’s border crossings, including the stage where they are still outside Israel and have not reached its border crossings. Moreover, the privileges will also apply, as detailed in this document, to US citizens who are residents of the Judea and Samaria area or who possess an additional citizenship.

The Minister of the Interior possesses broad discretion in applying his prerogatives under the Entry into Israel Law of 5712/1952 (hereafter, “the Entry into Israel Law”). This falls under the principle of sovereignty, whereby a state has broad discretion to prevent entry of foreigners into its territory or to expel them when they are no longer welcome.

Entry process

According to Section D1:

If a US citizen’s specific case involves no security block and no criminal, immigration, or health disqualification, he shall receive a B/2 Admission Paper in Israel that covers a period of up to 90 days. That visa is conditional on a border control procedure which is performed equitably on all foreign citizens wishing to enter Israel and in accordance with the stipulations of the Entry into Israel Law and the regulations of the Population and Immigration Authority.

Overstaying the B/2 Admission paper

Section D3 clarifies that:

Like any other foreign citizen entering Israel for a visit, a visiting US citizen who has arrived
at one of Israel’s international border crossings will be obliged to leave through one of Israel’s
international border crossings at the time specified for him on the Admission Paper that was
issued to him upon entry into Israel. In this matter, there is no significance to whether or not,
during that period, he spent part of the time in the Judea and Samaria area.

US national Palestinian who who chooses to identify himself as such at the Allenby Bridge Crossing by means of the Palestinian documents

Section D4 clarify that

 A US citizen to whom no security block and no criminal, immigration, or health
disqualification applies, who is also a resident of the Judea and Samaria area, and who chooses
to identify himself as such at the Allenby Bridge Crossing by means of the Palestinian documents
in his possession, may enter the Judea and Samaria area in that way and may stay there in
accordance with COGAT procedures.

In such a case, the US citizen shall not be entitled to a B/2 Admission Paper in Israel that covers a period of up to 90 days. Should he wish to enter Israel through an internal crossing (having entered the Judea and Samaria area through the Allenby Bridge Crossing), he may submit an appropriate permit request under the COGAT procedures.

Appeal Against Denial of Entry

According to section E1,

If a US citizen has been refused entry at the border crossing, he may equitably submit an appeal to the court of appeals, the same as any other foreign citizen who has been refused entry at a border crossing. Alternatively, he may submit a request to be invited to Israel in advance, through the offices of the Population Administration.

Also, the US Embassy in Israel suggests that if a US national are denied entry, or experience discrimination (even if are admitted) he/she can contact the American Citizens Services (ACS) Unit at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem or at the Embassy Branch Office in Tel Aviv. 

Official Links:

U.S. Embassy in Israel:  MASCOT Message – Israel Entry-Exit

Border control and crossings: Reciprocal privileges for US citizens at border control 

Update 20 July 2023: As of today (July 20, 2023), Israel will allow entry to all U.S. citizens, including Palestinian Americans living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in a policy change it hopes will secure visa-free access for Israelis to the United States. According to an Israeli statement made by Israel’s national security adviser, the full implementation of the program will apply to any U.S. citizen, including those with dual citizenship, American residents of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and American residents of the Gaza Strip.

According to the U.S. State Department spokesperson, the US expects the changes to “ensure equal treatment for all U.S. citizen travelers without regard to national origin, religion or ethnicity.

Update 20 June 2023: As of middle of July, the Israeli policy will change permanently, allowing any Palestinian with an American passport to enter Israel and travel the country as a tourist freely like any other American citizens.

Given the complexity of the matter new systems will enable Israel to conduct identity verifications of American citizens traveling to the country even before their departure, aiding in the detection of potential security risks. Nevertheless, Israel reserves the right to individually deny entry to a Palestinian with American citizenship in cases where criminal, security, immigration, or health suspicions arise, the general approach is to comply with the American demand for full reciprocity, allowing free entry and exit for American and Israeli citizens.

Palestinian fly’s to the US

As part of this program, residents of the West Bank who hold American citizenship will be able to fly to the United States through Israel’s Ramon Airport without unnecessary delays.

This marks a significant departure from the current situation, where Palestinians, irrespective of their additional citizenship, are required to leave the West Bank and enter through the Allenby crossing. However, exceptions are made for around 30,000 Palestinians annually who are granted the opportunity to fly to the US for humanitarian reasons.

Dual citizenship of Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria

Despite the new regulations, the entry of American citizens possessing dual citizenship of Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria into Israel is still prohibited. the U.S. government has reportedly advocated for complete reciprocity, urging that all U.S. citizens traveling to Israel be granted the same privileges as Israelis entering the United States including dual citizenship from nations with adversarial relations with Israel, such as  Iran, Iraq, Lebanon or Syria. \\\

Currently, American citizens with dual citizenship in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon or Syria are otherwise prohibited from entering Israel. Exceptions can only be made if the Minister of Interior grants a residence permit, having been convinced that such permission serves the special interests of the State of Israel, or another significant national concern, in accordance with S.9 of the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Provision), 2022. In essence, a preemptive request for entrance approval must be filed at the Ministry of Interior for these individuals.

For example: Consider an American-Lebanese dual citizen, John Doe, who wishes to visit Israel. As per the new regulations, he is initially prohibited from entering due to his dual citizenship. However, if he can demonstrate that his visit serves a special interest of the State of Israel, or another important national concern, the Minister of Interior may grant him a permit. This requires John Doe to file a preemptive request with the Ministry of Interior, outlining his reasons and proving his case, before attempting to enter the country.

General Remarks

The program serves as a testament to the ongoing efforts between Israel and the United States to enhance bilateral relations and promote mutual understanding.

The US has emphasized that without meeting this condition, Israel will not be admitted to the prestigious visa exemption program, which is anticipated to come into effect in October or November of this year.

As the pilot program unfolds in the coming months, its success will likely play a pivotal role in determining Israel’s inclusion in the visa waiver program. By ensuring the efficient functioning of the security systems and maintaining a commitment to non-discrimination, Israel can position itself favorably for full participation in this prestigious program.

Ultimately, the visa exemption will foster greater connectivity and open doors for both Israelis and Palestinians, fostering increased dialogue and cooperation between the two nations.