Bennett, Blinken Discuss Regional Issues, Climate, Visa Waivers
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met Wednesday with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, ahead of the Israeli leader’s meeting Thursday with President Joe Biden. Bennett and Blinken discussed regional issues, including the Iranian nuclear program and relations with the Palestinians, as well as the global threat of climate change. The secretary of state “emphasized that Israelis and Palestinians alike deserve equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and dignity, which is important in its own right and as a means to advance prospects for a two-state solution,” the State Department said in a statement. In addition, department spokesman Ned Price said that the prime minister and secretary “agreed on the importance of working toward Israel’s inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program in order to benefit both US citizens and Israeli citizens.” The program enables most citizens of participating countries to travel to the US for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. It currently covers the citizens of 39 countries – none of them in the Middle East. While lower-level talks have been underway for decades on including Israel in the program, these have been held up, in part, because of US dissatisfaction with Israel’s treatment of Palestinian American travelers. Israel turns away some Americans of Palestinian descent who wish to enter the country and subjects others to security checks that many consider overly strict and humiliating. The US State Department currently rejects a relatively high proportion of visa requests from Israeli applicants, apparently out of fear that young Israelis, often on post-army trips abroad, will overstay their visas and work in the US illegally.