Israel delays, amends new West Bank travel rules after outcry

JERUSALEM (AFP): Israel Sunday delayed until next month new rules on visas for the occupied West Bank and dropped at least two controversial aspects relating to romantic relationships, a day before the measures were due to be implemented.

The planned rules had stipulated that foreign passport holders notify Israeli authorities within 30 days of starting a relationship with someone holding residency in the West Bank.

COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry body responsible for Palestinian civil affairs, on Sunday published a revised text which removed the paragraph demanding they be emailed about new relationships.

The original text had also said foreign spouses of Palestinians would initially be granted three- or six-month permits, with most then required to leave the West Bank for six months before obtaining a new permit.

The requirement to remain outside the West Bank for six months does not appear in the draft published on Sunday.

But Israeli rights group HaMoked alleged that the amended text would still cause major dislocations in family lives.

“They have removed some of the most outrageous elements,” said executive director Jessica Montell.

“But the basic problem remains: Israel will prevent thousands of families from living together, if one spouse is a foreign national, for blatantly political reasons of demographic engineering,” she added.

Publication of the procedures in February had been met with legal challenges to the supreme court, led by HaMoked.

The original measures also placed major limits on academic life, with Israel coming under fire for quotas of 100 foreign lecturers and 150 students granted permission to live in the West Bank annually. These quotas do not appear in the new draft.

The amended rules will now come into effect on October 20, according to the new draft, for a two-year pilot period.