Israel drops its requirement that visitors to the West Bank report their ties to the Palestinians

Revised Israel issued guiding rules For foreign nationals to enter the West Bank on Sunday, he reversed provisions requiring visitors to notify Israel if any of them began a relationship with a Palestinian, after coming under pressure in this regard from the administration of US President Joe Biden and from European governments.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Defense Ministry body responsible for Palestinian civil affairs, published a draft “Procedures for Entry and Residence of Aliens in the Judea and Samaria Area” in February. The rules were due to go into effect in July, but were delayed by petitions to the Supreme Court.

The revised document will enter into force on October 20.

The updated document file has been removed Requirements That a foreigner who begins a relationship with a resident of the West Bank after entering the territory must notify the Israeli authorities within 30 days of their engagement, marriage, or commencement of cohabitation – “whichever occurs first.”

“An alien married to a resident of the territory, or forming a couple with one, must proceed to make arrangements … prior to arrival in the territory. If the relationship begins after the alien’s arrival in the territory, the authorized COGAT official must be notified in writing within 30 days of the start of At the same time, a request must be made to the Palestinian Authority to formalize the situation,” it said in the original draft.

COGAT removed the February draft online on Sunday as well, replacing it with the new 90-page edition, dated September 4, 2022.

The new draft also allows for the extension of foreigners’ visas from 90 days to 180 days. In addition, COGAT has canceled quotas for visiting lecturers and students in Palestinian universities, which were originally 100 teachers and 150 students.

US President Joe Biden departs Prime Minister Yair Lapid before departing Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport on July 15, 2022 for Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Israel also agreed – reportedly under pressure from US officials – that there would be a two-year trial period during which further amendments to the regulations could be made.

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“At the end of the trial period, the situation will be assessed and a decision will be made as to whether the measure will be kept in force,” the document reads.

American concern

Despite the changes, and the release of revised guidelines, the US government remains concerned, with US Ambassador Tom Nedis saying he still has “concerns about the published protocols”.

In a statement published after the changes were announced, Nedis said: “Since February, the US Embassy in Jerusalem, the US Office of Palestinian Affairs, and the Government of Israel have engaged strongly with the Government of Israel on these draft rules – and will continue to do so. So in the 45 days prior to implementation and during the period The two-year trial.

“I remain concerned about the published protocols, particularly regarding the role of the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories in determining whether individuals invited by Palestinian academic institutions are eligible to enter the West Bank, and the potential negative impact on family unity,” he said.

“It is important to ensure that all of these regulations are developed in coordination with key stakeholders, including the Palestinian Authority. I fully expect the Government of Israel to make the necessary adjustments during the trial period to ensure transparency and fair and equal treatment of all US citizens and other foreign nationals traveling to the West Bank.”

Shortly before the updated regulations were published, a senior embassy official expressed the same opinion.

“We have concerns about the possibility that these policies will lead to a curtailment of travel to the West Bank by foreigners, volunteers, academics and investors,” the official said, during an online briefing to Israeli journalists, requesting anonymity.

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The official vowed to closely monitor the impact of the regulations, and said that Washington “fully expects the Israelis to make the necessary adjustments during the two-year trial period that will ensure transparency and fair and equal treatment, especially for all US citizens traveling to the Western Bank.”

The US official also commended the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, saying he had “adjusted the guidelines in important ways.” The official cited “less difficult requirements” for foreigners in romantic relations with the Palestinians, and raised academic quotas.

Head of the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alyan, in a video message to Gaza residents on August 5, 2022. (Screen capture / COGAT)

The proposed quotas drew a strong rebuke from the European Union, whose Erasmus+ exchange program has been hit hard.

In 2020, 366 European students and professors took part in West Bank courses, which is significantly more than the proposed total quota for the next two years.

“While Israel benefits greatly from Erasmus+, [European] Education Commissioner Maria Gabriel said in July that the commission was of the view that it should facilitate, not impede, students’ access to Palestinian universities.

Meanwhile, the US official said, “there remains a concern about OCGAT rules on determining whether individuals invited by Palestinian academic institutions are eligible to enter the West Bank.”

Palestinian students supporting Fatah wave national and movement flags as they attend a debate ahead of student council elections at Birzeit University in the West Bank suburbs of Ramallah, May 17, 2022 (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

The US wants to ensure that the systems “allow the largest number of academics to come to the West Bank,” the official said.

The official stressed that the United States is pressing OCGA to ensure that “relevant Palestinian entities” have a role in shaping the new guidelines.

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“It is important to ensure that these regulations enable the long-term development of the West Bank, and that they are developed in coordination with key stakeholders, including the Palestinian Authority.”

Complex and sensitive conversations

The senior official explained that the ongoing talks with Israel over the long-awaited visa waiver are “parallel but separate tracks” from OCGA regulations.

However, some of the COGAT rules will have to change further, in order for Israel to be able to meet the reciprocity requirements to join the Visa Waiver Program.

“These policies to be issued by the Office of Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories will have an impact on US citizens, as well as on citizens of other countries,” the senior official said. “We will look closely at those and continue the conversation with the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories and other parts of the Israeli government as we go down the path toward visa reciprocity.”

The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of participating countries to make short-term visits to the United States without having to apply for a visa.

Public Security Minister Omar Bar-Lev, Homeland Security Under Secretary for Policy Robert Silvers, and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked sign an information-sharing agreement in Jerusalem on March 2, 2022 (Courtesy)

All members of the program are expected to grant “reciprocal” treatment to all US citizens at each border crossing.

“To become a member of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), foreign countries must treat all US visa applicants equally; however, Israel is accused of discriminating against Arab Americans,” according to the US Congressional Research Service.

Granting automatic entry to US citizens from the West Bank and Gaza is expected to be a huge demand from Israel, which regularly restricts such passages for what it says are security reasons.

“Anything inconsistent should be changed,” the official said.

“The visa waiver reciprocity requirement, when we get to this point, will supersede some of those COGAT policies that we’ve listed here.”

“We are in a complex and sensitive discussion with the Israeli government,” the senior official said, including on the topic of “giving reciprocal privileges to all American citizens, including Palestinian Americans.”

Passengers at Ben Gurion International Airport, June 7, 2022 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The official emphasized that the United States has expressed its concerns to relevant bodies in the Israeli government, and that Washington expects “Jerusalem will listen when we and others express their concerns about how these regulations are implemented.”

After the draft was released in February, the regulations – which do not apply to those visiting Israeli settlements in the West Bank – were subject to legal challenge and public oversight.

Students on the campus of Bethlehem University in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. May 19, 2014 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90/File)

AFP contributed to this report.

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