The Knesset’s impending dissolution and upcoming election are likely to delay Israel’s entry into the US Visa Waiver Program, which allows Israelis to visit the US without a visa.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides have said that Israel could enter the program early next year, but that is less likely in light of the election.
Israel made significant progress in the past year, starting with former ambassador to the US Gilad Erdan, whose work the new government enthusiastically adopted last year. US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken mentioned that the administration would also push for a visa waiver for Israel when Prime Minister Naftali Bennett visited Washington in September.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked took action, working with the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) to authorize Palestinian-Americans to use Ben-Gurion Airport en route to visit the West Bank. The ministry also launched a campaign to lower the rate of visa refusal for Israelis to below 3%, which was one of the obstacles to Israel joining the 40 other countries in the program. Most of the refusals were due to invalid passport photos or registration errors.
Shaked also worked to put necessary legislation on the Knesset’s agenda, such as allowing the US access to the passenger names record and advanced passenger information, and amending privacy aspects of the criminal code to share information on Israelis with a criminal record.
With the Knesset set to be dissolved next week, Shaked still hopes to pass the laws as part of what is called “cleaning the table,” by which the Knesset passes non-controversial government-backed legislation in the final days before an election is called.
“There is a chance to pass the relevant laws,” said Shaked’s spokeswoman. “She asked the Agreements Committee [between the coalition and opposition] to pass these laws by agreement.”
Shaked “very much hopes they will cooperate because this isn’t something that’s Right or Left,” she said. “It’s something that serves all citizens of Israel.”
However, the Likud said on Wednesday that it is unwilling to cooperate on any bills, making the legislation unlikely to advance.
“Israel made more progress on getting into the Visa Waiver Program in the past six or seven months than they had in the previous years that they were trying,” said a senior US Embassy official. “I give a lot of credit to the current government for putting their nose to the grindstone – providing data, doing site visits, working on the substantive issues. The fact that there is legislation on the agenda is a testimony to how hard the government has been working to resolve the outstanding issues.”
“The fact that there is legislation on the agenda is a testimony to how hard the government has been working to resolve the outstanding issues.”Senior US Embassy official