Israel is trying to sneak back a policy that had to be dropped a few years ago after the US belatedly opposed it. Israel wants to bar “foreigners” in the West Bank – read: Palestinians with US or other foreign passports, and humanitarian aid workers – from accessing Israel or, more significantly, occupied East Jerusalem. For more on the earlier episode, read:
Israel can do this because its Interior Ministry controls the population register for Palestinians as well as Israelis (yes, the PA really is just window-dressing on the occupation). The ministry issues the visas on which all “visitors” to the occupied territories rely, whether tourists, foreign workers, or Palestinians returning from abroad who find they have been stripped of their local residency.
This renewed policy has many negative consequences. One is that it further isolates East Jerusalem from the West Bank. Another is that it makes it all but impossible for international humanitarian organisations to operate.
But it also refines Israel’s apartheid system by introducing a concept (or taint?) of “Palestinianness” that supersedes one’s formal legal identity. Palestinian “returnees” – mostly skilled professionals such as academics, businesspeople, lawyers – have played a vital role in rebuilding Palestinian society after decades of Israeli de-development. They have been able to use their privileges as Americans and so on to bypass Israel’s apartheid laws and its Bantustans; they moved freely between the West Bank and Jerusalem, or on into Israel, for example.
Now they will be prisoners like other Palestinians, and their foreign passports little more useful than an Israeli-issued ID for Palestinians.
Israel thinks that if it keeps reviving this policy it will wear down US resistance and get its way. If history is a guide, Israel is probably right.