US links Israel visa-waiver to West Bank travel for Palestinian-Americans
The United States expects Israel, under a visa-waiver deal being discussed between the allies, to enable free passage for Palestinian-Americans into the Occupied West Bank, the US ambassador said on Wednesday, Reuters reports.
Among territories where Palestinians seek statehood, the West Bank has seen a surge in violence over the past year. It is peppered with Israeli military checkpoints and patrols.
Ambassador Thomas Nides said he expected an announcement soon on whether the number of Israeli applicants who refused recent requests for US visas had been kept to 3 percent or fewer, as required for a waiver deal. Israel would also have to ratify such a deal.
“Number three, we have to be clear about reciprocity. Reciprocity will mean that Palestinian-Americans will be able to freely travel from Detroit to (Israel’s main airport) Ben-Gurion to Ramallah,” Nides told Ynet Radio, referring to the West Bank hub city that is the seat of the Palestinian government.
“And Americans who live in Ramallah will be able to go from Ramallah to Ben-Gurion back to Detroit,” he said.
“When we get all those pieces working together, hopefully, then Israelis will not have to stand in line ever again to get a tourist visa — a visa to come to the United States.”
Asked whether Israel was preparing special provisions for Palestinian-Americans to pass through its West Bank checkpoints, a military spokesperson said: “We have nothing new to relay.”
In an estimate that it says is based in part on US census data, the Arab American Institute Foundation puts the number of Palestinian-descended Americans at between 122,500 and 220,000.
The Office of Palestinian Affairs in the US Embassy in Jerusalem did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for the number of Palestinian Americans domiciled in the West Bank.
Some US officials have privately put that number as being in the tens of thousands. The overall Palestinian population in the West Bank is 3.2 million, according to a Ramallah census.
In the Ynet Radio interview, Nides did not mention any arrangements for travel to the Gaza Strip, another Palestinian territory that Israel withdrew from in 2005, and which is now controlled by Hamas, a Palestinian group blacklisted by the West.
There are a few hundred Palestinian Americans living in Gaza, according to anecdotal accounts that Reuters could not immediately verify. Israel and neighboring Egypt keep tight control of the enclave’s borders, citing security needs.