Why did Israel U-turn on relationship rules for West Bank?

Why did Israel U-turn on relationship rules for West Bank?
Village in the WB- Shutterstock

On Sunday, Israel issued revised protocols for the entry of foreign passport holders into the West Bank, with some controversial clauses deleted after criticism from human rights organizations that said the previous version codified discriminatory Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinians.

Observers believe that the shift in the Israeli position stems from its fears of reciprocity in the United States and the efforts made by American officials at the embassy in Israel regarding the new draft rules.

After public and private condemnation from diplomats and international organizations, the latest version of the guidelines was published on Sunday evening as a 90-page document.

The revised version removes the requirement that foreign passport holders declare their love affairs with Palestinians to the Israeli military authorities. It also eliminates the academic quota that allows only 100 foreign professors and 150 students to enter the West Bank.

The amendments dropped a question in the previous version asking applicants to declare whether they own or expect to inherit land in the West Bank, causing consternation among many Palestinian Americans who believed it indicated changes in land ownership regulations.

A clause was also added allowing doctors and teachers to obtain long-term visas and foreign spouses to work or volunteer. The regulations will be implemented on October 20 and will run through a two-year trial period.

Since the publication of the original draft in February, the entry protocols have been subject to multiple legal interventions by human rights organizations that they say formalize discriminatory practices against Palestinians under Israeli occupation. It was suspended twice due to the opposition of 19 plaintiffs before the Israeli High Court.

The new decisions were widely criticized by human rights organizations and defenders, including the Center for the Defense of the Individual (HaMoked), a human rights organization in Israel, describing them as “extremely restrictive” and “imposing vague intrusive pretexts,” according to AFP.

Critics considered that these restrictions are imposed on foreigners wishing to reside, work, study, invest or participate in any humanitarian or volunteer work in the West Bank, not only Palestinian spouses and their emotional partners.

“Since February, US officials have clearly expressed concerns about the concept of restricting or making travel onerous for US citizens as well as all foreign nationals,” Ali Ghazi, professor of international relations at the American University in Cairo, told Jusoor Post.

He added that during negotiations with their Israeli counterparts, US officials made clear that the protocols would affect Israel's attempts to join the Department of Homeland Security's Visa Waiver Program, under which citizens of member states do not need a visa to enter the United States.

“For Israel to enter into a visa waiver, there must be reciprocal privileges in terms of enabling Americans to travel without a visa,” the international relations professor said.

Palestinian activist Lubna Shomali of Badil, a Palestinian human rights organization, told Jusoor Post that despite “toning down some of the language, it still gives the Israeli military illegitimate jurisdiction to interfere in Palestinian public and private life in West Bank territory.”

The rules give the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, the Israeli military agency responsible for handling Palestinian civil affairs, the authority to ban individuals from five countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel: Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain and South Sudan.

It effectively states that dual nationals, for example, passport holders of Jordan, where at least 60 percent of the population is of Palestinian origin, are ineligible to enter the West Bank. “This is blatant discrimination,” said Shomali, whose organization plans to petition to prevent enforcement of the rules.

The restrictions will not apply to Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The two-tiered legal structure of the territories treats Israeli Jews as citizens living under civilian rule while Palestinians are treated as combatants under military rule, subject to nighttime military raids, confinement and prohibitions from visiting their ancestral lands or accessing certain roads.

Challenges facing foreign spouses of Palestinians

Campaign for the Right of Entry/Re-Entry to the Occupied Palestinian Territory (oPt) regularly complains of “discriminatory, cruel and arbitrary practices by the Israeli authorities that cause enormous humanitarian hardships for foreign spouses and result in forcible separation from their families in the West Bank.”

The campaign indicated that the Israeli authorities have frozen many recent applications to the Palestinian Authority to obtain residency or citizenship for foreign spouses. It also refused to grant long-term visas to Palestinian foreign spouses in cases of family reunification, which can be challenged before the Israeli High Court of Justice.

Commenting on the new Israeli restrictions, Palestinian writer and researcher Marwa Fatata told Jusoor Post her personal experience with her German husband while traveling to the occupied territories.

“If you fall in love with a Palestinian from the West Bank, you should inform the Israeli Ministry of Defense immediately,” she said.

“The last time I traveled to Palestine with my German husband, we had to pretend we didn't know each other. Otherwise, they wouldn't let him in,” she added.

Fatata considered that the Israeli measure is the result of further “persecution and bureaucracy” against the Palestinians.

The Palestinian writer described the experience of pretending that she and her husband did not know each other as “cruel”.

“Within ten minutes, we had to quickly delete shared photo logs, apps, chats and any trace of our relationship because they could snatch our phones and search our personal data if they wanted to. No love, no dignity, no privacy under apartheid,” she said.