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Monday, March 27, 2023

Israel U-turns on Controversial Requirement for Foreigners

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Israel has removed a controversial border-passage requirement for foreigners to declare their relationships with Palestinians, following an international backlash and pressure from Washington.

On Sunday, the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli Defense Ministry’s department for Palestinian civil affairs, released an updated version of its guidance on “Procedure for entry and residence of foreigners in the Judea and Samaria area.”

The document does not include several provisions which were part of the initial draft, published in February and which were supposed to come into force on Monday.

Among the removed pieces is a requirement that any foreigner “forming a couple” with a West Bank resident after entering the territory should notify Israeli authorities within 30 days of the engagement, wedding, or the beginning of cohabitation, “whichever occurs first.”

The new rulebook does not require foreign spouses of Palestinians to spend half a year outside the West Bank after 27 months of marriage for a “cooling off period,” as was suggested before, and allows the extension of foreigners’ visas from 90 to 180 days.

COGAT also waived quotas on visiting lecturers and students at Palestinian universities, which had been set in the original draft at 100 teachers and 150 students. These quota proposals were condemned by the European Union, whose Erasmus+ exchange program would have been seriously impacted.

The new regulations, which are not applicable to foreigners visiting Israel or Israeli settlements, are supposed to take effect on October 20 for a two-year pilot period.

“At the end of the pilot period, the situation will be evaluated and a decision will be made regarding whether to keep the procedure in force,” the document states.

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides acknowledged the revisions, stressing in a statement that he had “aggressively engaged with the Government of Israel on these draft rules” and will continue to do so.

“I continue to have concerns with the published protocols, particularly 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,” Nides said.

He called on Israeli officials to ensure fair and equal treatment of all foreigners traveling to the West Bank.

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