U.S. says Israel has not met requirements to join Visa Waiver Program
Recasts with U.S. response contradicting Netanyahu
WASHINGTON/JERUSALEM, March 29 (Reuters) -Israel has not met eligibility requirements to join the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP), the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he expected his country to join soon.
Israel is yet to grant free passage for Palestinian-Americans at its airports and into the occupied West Bank, which Washington says is required for Israel to meet the condition of reciprocity to join the program, which would allow Israelis visa-free access to the United States.
Israel "still has significant work to complete on a short timeline to meet all program requirements" by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said by email.
The apparent discord came as tensions spiked between the allies over a contested Israeli judicial overhaul plan.
Netanyahu said earlier on Wednesday that new legislation meant Israel would join in September, and that Israel would in the coming months address outstanding requirements, which it did not detail.
It was unclear if Israel planned to change its approach to Palestinian-Americans.
"Participation in the VWP requires that Israel provide equal treatment and entry rights to all U.S. citizens and nationals, at Israel’s ports of entries and checkpoints, just as the United States would grant such visa-free travel privileges to Israeli citizens," said the State Department's Patel.
"This includes Palestinian-Americans, including those on the Palestinian Authority population registry."
Before Netanyahu's announcement, his national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, said on Twitter that parliament was due to ratify the last of four bills "that will advance us toward getting the U.S. visa waiver for the citizens of Israel".
That appeared to refer to the Knesset plenum's approval in final readings on Wednesday of a law setting up a new national immigration database linked with airline passenger manifests.
Washington had previously called for greater access to databases in Israel about its travelers to the United States.
Reporting by Simon Lewis and Dan Williams; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Sharon Singleton
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