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Israeli U-turn over West Bank romance declarations

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    17 hours ago

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Image source, Getty Images

Israel has dropped a controversial demand for foreigners visiting the occupied West Bank to report romantic links with Palestinians within 30 days.

Revised rules also on foreigners living in, or wanting to, visit the territory remove a quota for university lecturers and students from abroad.

The Palestinian Prime Minister, Mohammed Shtayyeh, described them as “racist measures”.

Israel says restrictions on travel into the West Bank are for security reasons.

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The US ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides said he had “aggressively engaged” with the Israeli government and continued “to have concerns with the published protocols”.

European diplomats previously said they had brought up concerns “at the highest level” with the Israeli authorities.

Mr Shtayyeh has called on the US and EU to apply diplomatic pressure to make further changes.

The procedures affect thousands of foreign spouses, as well as Palestinians living in the diaspora, businesspeople, academics and volunteers.

A senior source at the Co-ordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (Cogat), the unit of the Israeli ministry of defence responsible for Palestinian civil affairs, told me they were intended “for the convenience of foreigners” and would allow requests for more long-term visas.

‘Negative impact’

Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East War and continues to occupy it.

In February, Cogat published a lengthy document titled “Procedure for entry and residence of foreigners in the Judea and Samaria area” – using the biblical term that Israel uses to refer to the West Bank. It was meant to replace a four-page one.

Qalandiya checkpoint in the West Bank

Image source, Getty Images

However, petitions to the High Court delayed the rules from taking effect.

The updated document has removed a requirement for a foreigner starting a relationship with a Palestinian from the West Bank to tell Israeli authorities in writing within 30 days.

The revised draft adds new categories of work permits for teachers and doctors and removes a limit of 100 visiting lecturers and 150 students at Palestinian universities.

It also allows for the extension of foreigners’ visas from 90 days to 180 days.

In addition, it now gives a route for nationals of Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, South Sudan and Morocco – all countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel – to apply for an entry permit, which it did not before.

Despite the changes, Ambassador Nides raised questions “regarding Cogat’s role in determining whether individuals invited by Palestinian academic institutions are qualified to enter the West Bank, and the potential negative impact on family unity”.

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The new arrangements – which affect many Americans with dual nationality – have complicated recent discussions on Israel joining the US visa-waiver programme.

‘Too burdensome’

The new rules do not apply to those visiting Israel as well as Palestinian-controlled parts of the West Bank, nor Jewish settlements. In such cases, entry involves the Israeli immigration authorities.

As the basis for its authority, Cogat cites the Oslo Accords, interim peace agreements reached in the 1990s, which required Israeli approval to grant residency to foreign spouses and children of Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza, and approve visitor permits.

However, Israeli lawyer Leora Bechor, who petitioned the High Court over the rules on behalf of the non-governmental organisation HaMoked, argues that it is “in direct violation” of these agreements in the way it deals with the Palestinian population registry.

“Instead of the Palestinian Authority determining which foreigners will receive Palestinian IDs, as required by the Oslo Accords, Israel appropriates that right under the new policy, designing a host of requirements so onerous that no foreign spouse can meet them,” she says.

She says that many demands for change in the new document “were completely ignored” and that “tight restrictions” continue to affect all aspects of Palestinian civil society.

They new rules were published late on Sunday and are due to take effect on 20 October for a pilot period of two years.

Israeli officials say that further amendments are possible and that there are ongoing discussions with the Palestinian Authority, foreign diplomats and others.

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