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Israel to allow entry to Palestinian Americans in effort to join U.S. visa-free program

Ambassador of Israel to the United States Michael Herzog signs a memorandum of understanding Wednesday that will permit all Americans entry into Israel. Photo courtesy of Ambassador of Israel to the United States Michael Herzog/Twitter
Ambassador of Israel to the United States Michael Herzog signs a memorandum of understanding Wednesday that will permit all Americans entry into Israel. Photo courtesy of Ambassador of Israel to the United States Michael Herzog/Twitter

July 20 (UPI) -- Starting Thursday, all U.S. citizens, including Palestinian Americans residing in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, will be allowed to enter Israel as it seeks visa-free entry for its citizens to the United States.

The agreement was signed Wednesday by U.S. ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides and Michael Herzog, Israel's ambassador to the United States, as the Middle Eastern country seeks to meet the requirements for acceptance to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program.

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"Implementing this principle strengthens the unbreakable bond between our countries and directly contributes to Israel's security," Tzachi Hanegbi, director of Israel's national Security Council and National security adviser, said in a statement.

"This is an important milestone, which brings us closer to fully complying with the American government's requirements for the VWP nomination."

Citizens of countries participating in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program have the ability to travel to the United States for visa-free stays of 90 days or less.

U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Wednesday that Israel made the change to ensure "equal treatment for all U.S. citizens, without regard to national origin, religion or ethnicity," and that the Biden administration will work with Israel in its efforts to meet the U.S. Visa Waiver Program requirements.

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"The United States will continue to closely engage with the government of Israel and monitor the implementation of its updated travel policies, which will inform Israel's candidacy for the Visa Waiver Program," he said in a statement.

The MOU was signed as Israeli President Issac Herzog was in Washington where he addressed a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday and said the U.S.-Israeli bond is "unbreakable."

"Israel and the U.S. will disagree on many matters," Herzog said. "But we will always remain family. Our bond may be challenged at times. But is absolutely unbreakable."

The MOU's signing and Herzog's visit come as the U.S-Israeli relationship has cooled under the far-right coalition government of Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu that seeks to overhaul its judiciary and has increased efforts to expand illegal West Bank settlements.

On Monday, Biden spoke with Netanyahu and the two leaders agreed to meet in person at a later date.

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