State Dept. rips Israel for PA visitors policy

US says it has informed Israel that visa restrictions are "unfair and "not acceptable."

passport us 248.88 (photo credit: )
passport us 248.88
(photo credit: )
The United States termed new Israeli visa restrictions on visitors to the Palestinian Authority "not acceptable" late Tuesday and has informed the government of its criticism. Under the new policy, Israeli authorities have frequently begun stamping passports of tourists intending to visit areas in the West Bank with "Palestinian Authority only" stamps, restricting visitors' ability to enter Israel, or even to board returning flights from Ben-Gurion Airport. "We have let the government of Israel know that these restrictions unfairly impact Palestinian and Arab American travelers and are not acceptable," the State Department spokesman's office said in a statement responding to a reporter's question earlier in the day. "We have repeatedly told the government of Israel that the United States expects all American citizens to be treated equally, regardless of their national origin or other citizenship." Americans of Palestinian heritage or connections have complained to US and Israeli authorities about the difficulties the policy imposes on traveling to the West Bank, in many cases to visit family or for business interests. Israeli officials have defended the policy as necessary on security grounds, as a means of insuring that individuals who pose security risks aren't able to wander around Israel. In the past, some foreign terrorists were able to attack Israelis after first rendezvousing with contacts in Palestinian-controlled areas. The State Department posted information on the new policy, which it said began this spring, on the Jerusalem Consulate's Web site to inform travelers of the situation. "The Consulate can do nothing to assist in getting this visa status changed; only Israeli liaison offices in the West Bank can assist - but they rarely will. Travelers should be alert, and pay attention to which stamp they receive upon entry," the Web site reads. The criticism is the latest in a string of rebukes from the US on Israeli policies in the West Bank and towards Palestinians, focusing primarily on Israeli settlement activity and freedom of movement issues. Most concerns have been raised in the context of US efforts to press the Israelis - as well as Palestinians and Arabs - to take steps in line with restarting peace talks. US Middle East envoy George Mitchell is due to meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu next week to continue efforts to resolve differences over settlements.