Israel expected to relax W. Bank visa restrictions

Recently, the state began to insist that foreign-passport holders leave the country to renew visas.

Nablus checkpoint 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Nablus checkpoint 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The government plans to grant 27-month entry visas for the West Bank to bearers of foreign passports who do not come from enemy countries, Coordinator of Activities in the Territories spokesman Shlomo Dror said Thursday. "The matter is being looked into," he told The Jerusalem Post. "It looks like it will be approved." Over the past few months, Israel has changed its long-standing policy toward foreign-passport holders from countries not considered to be enemies. In the past, tourist visas were automatically renewed after three months without the applicant having to leave the West Bank. Recently, the state began to insist that foreign-passport holders - including the spouses of Palestinian residents, foreign students and family members who come to the West Bank for the summer - leave the country and apply to renew their visas from elsewhere. In many cases, the government has subsequently turned down the visa applications, prohibiting the entry, or reentry, of the applicant. Following the intervention of recently appointed Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh and pressure imposed by some of the governments of the foreign-passport holders, Israel is considering issuing entry visas that will permit staying for 27 months without leaving the country. However, activists who have been campaigning against the government's current policy are skeptical about the reported policy change. Anita Abdullah, a member of the Ramallah-based "Campaign for the Right of Entry/Re-Entry to the Occupied Palestinian Territories," said Palestinians whose visas have expired are "staying put," fearing that if they go abroad to renew them in accordance with the current requirement, they will still not be allowed back in. As part of Israel's undeclared policy, foreigners who applied to Israel via the Palestinian Authority as they had in the past, were either turned down or received notification that this was the last time their visas would be renewed without them first leaving the country. There are theoretically three ways for non-Palestinians who reside in the West Bank permanently or for long periods of time to receive residency rights. The first is through family reunification, a process that Israel has suspended since 2000, when the second intifada broke out. The second is for those from enemy-classified countries married to Palestinians to receive visitors permits for six months at a time. There are tens of thousands of foreigners, including 60,000 Jordanian-born women, as well as women from other Arab countries, Russia and the Ukraine, who, in the past, were granted such permits. However, Israel stopped granting them after the outbreak of the intifada. The third way is by granting tourist visas to foreigner-passport holders. Until Israel changed its policies, spouses of Palestinians from Western countries were able to renew their visas virtually automatically.