A bill proposed in Knesset that will allow United States law enforcement to access fingerprint data from the Israel Police database passed its first reading and was approved for its second and third readings on Wednesday afternoon, according to the Knesset Spokesperson's office.
The proposition was approved unanimously by the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee (FADC) chaired by MK Yuli Edelstein (Likud).
Traveling without a visa
This bill is the third and last in a series of American legal requirements which, all together, will allow Israelis to travel to the United States without obtaining a visa beforehand.
Per the proposed arrangement, Israel Police will permit entities outside of Israel recognized and approved by the FBI or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to enter fingerprint data into a dedicated computer system that is mutually accessible. Thus, they can compare it with corresponding data in the Israel Police database to complete background checks.
This fingerprint comparison strategy will only be made possible for the purposes of preventing, detecting or investigating serious crimes which would be grounds for preventing entry to the United States or for deportation from the United States. It will also be used to research those attempting to immigrate to the United States.
"Israel has taken a big step toward the visa waiver program; the refusal rate has [already] dropped below 3%," said US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides in January when the Knesset began making moves toward the visa exemption. "This drop is only the first step Israel needs to take. Israel also needs to do a lot of work to promote the [visa] exemption, and the Knesset needs to pass certain laws so that eligibility is approved. However, the window of opportunity [for this] is open until September."
Ambassador Tom Nides' comments on the visa exemption
Nides underscored, however, that one of the most important elements for Israeli eligibility into the program is “equal treatment and freedom of travel for all US citizens regardless of national origin, religion or ethnicity, including Palestinian Americans, seeking to enter or transit through Israel.”
This means “that any person who has US citizenship and holds an American passport will be able to fly to Israel on short-term visits of less than 90 days, including travel to and out of the West Bank through Ben-Gurion Airport,” he said.
Israel currently bans most Palestinian travel through Ben-Gurion Airport for security reasons, even in cases where the Palestinians hold US passports. It is expected that this will be the most significant stumbling block for Israel.
“Freedom of travel is the fundamental basis of the Visa Waiver Program,” Nides said.
“It’s my hope we can get this done,” he added. “It’s good for Israelis, and it’s good for all Americans.”
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.