US visa
US visa iStock

As Israeli lawmakers prepare to dissolve the Knesset Wednesday and send the country to new elections, pending legislation waiting for ratification and major government decisions are likely to be delayed by half a year at least, until a new government is formed.

The ongoing political crisis, which has left Israel unable to maintain a governing coalition for more than 13 months at a time since fall 2018, is also threatening the timetable for plans by the US and Israel to end the visa requirement for Israelis who wish to travel to the United States.

Currently, Israelis traveling to the US on their Israeli passport must secure a US visa prior to their trip, a process which often involves a visit to the US embassy or consulate.

Israeli and American officials have been in negotiations for years to bring Israel into the US visa waiver program, a move which would exempt Israeli passport holders from securing a visa prior to travel.

The Biden administration recently expressed optimism Israel will be included in the waiver program by 2023.

Israeli Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said the government hopes to come into full compliance with the program’s requirements by next February.

Now, however, the impending dissolution of the Knesset will hamper Shaked’s efforts to pass the changes to Israel’s legal code necessary to meet the visa waiver program criteria.

The US has demanded three key changes as conditions for Israel’s inclusion in the program, including a significant decline in the number of Israelis who apply for visas but are declined. In early 2022, the figure stood at 6.5% of all visa requests in Israel, far above the 3% threshold.

In addition, Israel must pass legislation allowing border authorities to collect additional information on travelers entering or exiting Israel, and to maintain the information in a database accessible.

A second law required as a condition for Israel’s inclusion in the waiver program would enable authorities to use data collected by airlines in the new database to screen for possible terrorists or suspected criminals.

While the first bill has passed its first vote in the Knesset, it must be brought for its second and third readings before it becomes law.

The second bill has yet to be brought before the Knesset for its first reading.

US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides spoke with Interior Minister Shaked Monday evening, and expressed concern regarding the prospects for advancing the two bills.

The Coalition must secure Opposition support to pass the bills before the dissolution of the Knesset.