Senators Urge US to Block Israeli Occupation from VWP, Citing Discrimination Against Palestinian-Americans

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A group of 15 Democratic senators has penned a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, urging the reconsideration of Israel’s admission into the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP) by the end of this month. The senators accuse the Israeli occupation of persistently discriminating against Palestinian-Americans, despite the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in July, which pledged equal treatment and freedom of travel for all US citizens.

The VWP, a program allowing citizens of participating countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business purposes without requiring a visa for up to 90 days, has been a longstanding goal for the Israeli occupation. However, the Israeli occupation has faced hurdles due to its high visa refusal rate and its treatment of American travelers of Arab or Muslim origin.

The MOU was signed by Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. It was expected to pave the way for the Israeli inclusion in the VWP by the September 30th deadline set by Congress. Under the MOU, the Israeli occupation committed to implementing an electronic system for all US travelers by May 2024. In the interim, the Israeli occupation would grant travel permits to Palestinian-Americans through a system established by its military liaison.

Despite this agreement, the group of senators, led by Sen. Chris Van Hollen, has raised concerns that the MOU falls short and violates the law’s requirement for reciprocity and non-discrimination from VWP member countries. Their primary concerns include the continued exclusion of Palestinian-Americans from Gaza and Israeli retention of the right to impose restrictions on US citizens upon entry, such as prohibiting them from crossing checkpoints by car.

Additionally, the senators expressed worry that the US might be rushing to admit the Israeli occupation into the VWP this year due to concerns that it may not meet the requirement of keeping its visa refusal rate below three percent next year, potentially due to an increase in travel post-pandemic. They assert that this should not serve as a valid reason to overlook the Israeli failure to comply with other critical criteria of the program.

While the letter was initially reported by Axios and later confirmed by The Times of Israel, sources citing anonymous US and Israeli officials suggest that the Biden administration is unlikely to heed the senators’ call.

The letter bears the signatures of Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Ed Markey, Jeff Merkley, Tammy Baldwin, Tom Carper, Sherrod Brown, Cory Booker, Richard Blumenthal, Tammy Duckworth, Tina Smith, Alex Padilla, Raphael Warnock, and Jon Ossoff, emphasizing the widespread concern among Democratic senators regarding Israel’s VWP admission.

As the deadline for the Israeli potential inclusion in the VWP approaches, the senators’ letter raises important questions about the program’s commitment to non-discrimination and equal treatment for all US citizens, particularly those of Palestinian-American heritage. The Biden administration faces a challenging decision ahead, balancing diplomatic relations with human rights and equal treatment concerns.

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