A bill to extend cooperation between Israel and the US, and which describes Israel as "an important strategic partner" of Washington and establishes the right of Israeli citizens to enter the US without a visa, yesterday passed its last hurdle in Congress when the House of Representatives approved it unanimously. The Senate passed the bill in September, and it will be sent to the president for his signature soon,
The bill, considered one of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's (AIPAC the pro-Israel lobby in Washington) most important initiatives ever, has been through many incarnations in both houses of Congress over the past two years. It covers many areas of cooperation between Israel and the US, including military, energy, water, internal security, agriculture, alternative energy, Internet security, and easing restrictions on US licensing for Israeli defense exports based on US technology.
One of the bill's controversial provisions concerns Israel's inclusion on the list of countries whose citizens do not need tourist visas for a visit of up to three months in the US. The dispute between Congress and the administration on this issue delayed the bill for a long time in the Congressional pipeline.
The final wording of this section establishes the theoretical right of Israeli citizens to enter the US without a tourist visa. In practice, however, Israelis will have to wait for years until they can benefit from this right. The section reads, "It shall be the policy of the United States to include Israel on the list of countries that participate in the Visa 9 waiver program under Section 217 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 USC 1187) when Israel satisfies, and as long as Israel continues to satisfy, the requirements for inclusion in such program specified in such section." In fact, Israel does not satisfy the requirements, because of the high proportion of visa applications by Israelis that are refused (mainly a result of the many young Israelis who outstay their visas and work illegally in the US), and because its treatment of Palestinian Americans traveling to Israel means that it does not fulfil the mutuality condition.
Beyond the narrow concern of visa exemptions, the bill establishes the ideological and defense basis for cooperation between Israel and the US in the following language: "The people and the Governments of the United States and of Israel share a deep and unbreakable bond, forged by over 60 years of shared interests and shares values. Today, the people and Governments of the United States and of Israel are facing a dynamic and rapidly changing security environment in the Middle East and North Africa, necessitating deeper cooperation on a range of defense, security, and intelligence matters."
The bill will increase the value of the US weapons stored in Israel from $1.6 billion to $1.8 billion in order to make it easier for the Pentagon to prepare for potential wars in the Middle East. At the same time, Israel will be able to use these weapons stores, as it indeed did during Operation Protective Edge. The bill also requires that any initiative to sell advanced weapons to Arab countries take into account Israel's ability to cope with these weapons.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on December 4, 2014
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