Israel delays travel restrictions on West Bank in apparent gesture to Joe Biden

Israel has delayed the implementation of strict rules limiting the ability of foreigners to enter and stay in the occupied West Bank, in what is believed to be a gesture to Joe Biden before the US president’s visit to the Middle East next month.

A statement from the high court on Wednesday said the new rules would be shelved until early September, as a decision had not yet been made regarding objections to the proposed policy.

An injunction alleging discriminatory and restrictive criteria was filed by HaMoked, an Israeli non-profit organisation focusing on Palestinian legal rights, la settimana scorsa. The rules were due to come into effect on 5 luglio.

Palestinian academics, business leaders and rights groups expressed outrage over the policy when it was first outlined in February. Israeli media reported that the postponement follows talks between the Israeli defence minister, Benny Gantz, and US officials, who had voiced strong opposition to the new rules.

The 97-page ordinance replacing the current four-page document is expected to stifle the Palestinian economy and academia, as well as create complications for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian families with dual nationality already struggling to navigate a convoluted permit system.

Nearly all foreigners would only be granted single entry visas, some valid for just three months, and be forced to leave between visas and wait in some cases for more than a year before reapplying for entry. Residency is limited to a total of five years, making family life and long-term employment almost impossible.

“This is going to cause major issues. Some of our board members come here frequently and they need to be able to see their investments. They are destroying Palestinian businesses but also Oslo,” said Bassem Khouri, the chief executive of a pharmaceutical company in the West Bank, referring to the 1990s peace process agreements.

“Who can live and work here is supposed to be a Palestinian decision. This is designed to isolate us.”

There are no provisions at all for some common visa categories, including teachers and journalists working for Palestinian media outlets, as well as culture and tourism, and family visits by siblings, grandparents or grandchildren.

Solo 150 foreign students a year may enrol at Palestinian colleges and universities, studying pre-approved subjects, and there is a quota of 100 foreign “distinguished” lecturers, a designation Israeli authorities will make.

Palestinians holding dual citizenship will have to give the names and ID numbers of family and friends they will visit before they travel, as well as declare whether they own or stand to inherit property in the West Bank.

The new procedures apply only to Palestinians, and not Israeli settler communities living across the Green Line in violation of international law.

Nationals of Jordan, Egitto, Marocco, Bahrain and South Sudan, even if they have citizenship of a second country, will not be allowed to visit the West Bank except under exceptional or humanitarian circumstances.

This last point is thought to have attracted particular displeasure in Washington as it potentially discriminates against US citizens. Israel has been trying for years to negotiate a visa waiver programme with the US.

“It’s often the case with the occupation that mid-level clerks will come up with something that seems sensible to them, even though there is no justification for it, or clarity on who authorises you to make these decisions about how Palestinians can live,” said Jessica Montell, the executive director of HaMoked, which filed an injunction request on behalf of 19 individuals.Sign up to First Edition, our free daily newsletter – every weekday morning at 7am BST

“Elements of this policy are clearly not compatible with Israeli rights law or international law, and a slap in the face for Israel’s partners in the US and Europe too.”

The document says the new entry rules will “define the levels of authority and the manner of processing from foreigners who wish to enter the Judea and Samaria area”, the Israeli government term for the West Bank. Israeli authorities say that travel restrictions into and out of the territory are necessary for security reasons.

Cogat, the Israeli military civil body responsible for implementing government policy in the occupied Palestinian territories, did not respond to a request for comment.

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