Bennett and Blinken
Bennett and Blinken Avi Ohayon/GPO

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett “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” during their meeting on Wednesday, said State Department Spokesperson Ned Price.

Including Israelis in the Visa Waiver Program is an issue that Israel's Ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, has been working on.

During a recent conversation with the US Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, Erdan stressed that he sees high importance in the inclusion of Israel in the program, and said that accepting Israel into the program would illustrate the special relations between the two countries and peoples.

In a post on Facebook last week, Erdan noted that a large majority of Israelis who apply for a visa and are refused are discharged soldiers who seek to visit the US after completing their IDF service and are refused a visa because US authorities mistakenly think they are seeking to settle in the country long term.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Blinken and Bennett also “emphasized the importance of the US-Israel partnership and discussed regional security issues, including Iran”, said Price.

“The Secretary and the Prime Minister underscored our strong bilateral relationship, and the Secretary reiterated the US commitment to Israel's security. The Secretary also 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,” he added.

Blinken himself tweeted about the meeting and wrote, “Today I met with Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. We discussed the importance of the U.S.-Israel partnership, including America’s commitment to Israel’s security. I look forward to continuing our friendship and working with the Prime Minister and his government.”

Bennett told Blinken during the meeting that he brings “a new spirit of folks who sometimes harbor different opinions but work together in cooperation, in good will, in a spirit of unity, and we work hard to find common things that we do agree upon and move forward on it.”

The Secretary of State told the Prime Minister that “President Biden is looking forward to seeing you tomorrow. I think as you know, he has known and worked with every Israeli Prime Minister going back to Golda Meir, but he’s especially looking forward to seeing you, his new partner.”

“That partnership really is founded on the proposition that our two countries, working together, have a very important, very powerful common agenda and our commitment to that partnership, to Israel’s security, will always be unshakable,” he added.

Earlier on Wednesday, Bennett also met with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who said that "the administration remains committed to Israel's security and right to self defense. That is unwavering. It is steadfast, and it is ironclad."

"You can also see that commitment as we advocate for the replenishment of the Iron Dome missile defense system. The administration is committed to ensuring that Iron Dome can defend Israeli civilian population centers targeted by terrorist attacks. We are working closely with Congress to provide all the necessary information to respond positively to your request for $1 billion in emergency funding, and it's going to save more innocent lives," the Defense Secretary said.