The US Embassy in Israel has contacted Likud MK Yariv Levin to ask the opposition party not to vote against legislation essential for Israel to join the US visa waiver program, a source said. source close to the lawmaker told The Times of Israel on Tuesday.
US Ambassador Tom Nides also made a rare public statement to Israeli lawmakers urging them to support legislation to benefit Israelis and not let politics get in their way.
“I have worked around the clock since my arrival to help Israel meet all the requirements to join” the program, Nides said on Twitter. “Don’t lose your momentum now. This will help Israeli citizens travel to the United States – put them first!
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party had made it clear that it planned to vote against both bills to thwart the coalition’s bid to advance the wildly popular initiative on the eve of the election season. Likud is reportedly delaying the legislation due to a dispute over the election schedule.
The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of participating countries to visit the United States without applying for and obtaining a visa, which takes time and money and is by no means guaranteed.
The two pieces of legislation in question would grant the United States limited access to Israeli criminal records as well as access to inbound traveler information — requirements for all countries that join the waiver program.
Failure to pass the legislation would likely delay entry into the scheme for another year, as acceptance is based on annual visa refusal rate figures, which are collated in September. US authorities are optimistic about Israel’s ability to achieve a rejection rate of less than 3%, as demanded by applicants for the waiver program, given the limited number of trips that have taken place during the pandemic.
The source close to Levin said Likud had not reached an agreement with the coalition that would see him help pass the legislation. The embassy’s call to Likud was first reported by the Walla news site.
Nides also warned Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked on Tuesday that failure to pass key legislation would significantly delay Israel’s joining the program.
Nides called Shaked on Monday, his office told The Times of Israel, and is trying to push the bill forward.
Shaked shared Nides’ statement in support of the legislation on Twitter and added, “Maybe in English, opposition Knesset members will better understand the importance of this law for the citizens of Israel.” .
אולי באנגלית חברי הכנסת באופוזיציה יבו יותר טוב כמה החוק הזה חשוב לאזרחי ישראל https://t.co/ywbrcrfef0
— איילת שקד Ayelet Shaked (@Ayelet__Shaked) June 28, 2022
A similar call to back the bills has gone to the Joint List party, which US officials have told Israel’s entry into the visa waiver program would also help Palestinian Americans , reported Walla.
The community is often subject to invasive security checks at Ben Gurion Airport and the Biden administration has raised the issue during its discussions with Israel over the visa waiver program.
All members of the program are supposed to give “reciprocal” treatment to all US citizens at every border crossing. Granting automatic entry to US citizens from the West Bank and Gaza Strip should be a big demand from Israel, which regularly restricts such crossings for security reasons.
Current policies have left Palestinian Americans no choice but to travel to Amman and attempt to enter the West Bank through the Israeli-controlled Allenby Crossing.
The United States recently offered to add Palestinian Authority personnel to the Allenby crossing, but the idea has not been warmly welcomed by Israel, an Israeli official familiar with the matter said.
The opposition refuses to include the two key bills as it negotiates with the coalition over legislation that will be passed before the next election, according to the Ynet news outlet, which first reported on the phone call between Nides and Shaked.
The Likud-led opposition is delaying legislation unless it is guaranteed that elections will be held on October 25, rather than November as the coalition prefers.
Israel has been trying to join the visa waiver program for years, but has yet to meet the minimum requirements. In the past, governments have lobbied Congress for an exemption from these global criteria, but the latest push has seen Israel move towards passing legislation that would help it meet US conditions instead.
Shaked and Nides have in the past expressed hope that Israel would be able to join the visa waiver program by the end of the year or the beginning of 2023, but this is unlikely given that the Annual discard rate data will likely not be available until the spring. next year.