Arrivals board at Ben-Gurion Airport 370.
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Israeli travelers to Europe will bear the brunt of the government’s decision to
postpone a long-delayed “Open Skies Agreement” with the European
The agreement had promised to increase the number of flights that
European airlines operate to and from Israel gradually over a five-year period
as of 2013, as well as lower ticket prices to Europe for Israelis.
would have come at a cost to El Al and other local carriers, which would have
lost business to cut-rate European airlines. Strong opposition came, inter alia,
from El Al CEO Eliezer Shkedy, a former Israel Air Force commander, who said it
represented a serious threat to the national airline.
opponents was the Histadrut, which backed the local airline industry and even
threatened labor action.
The Prime Minister’s Office said the
postponement had been ordered to avoid making important decisions ahead of the
January 22 election, in accordance with principles of good
The official signing of the agreement between Israel’s Civil
Aviation Authority and the European Commission had been scheduled to take place
in Brussels this coming Thursday at a meeting of the EU’s transportation
The explanation by the Prime Minister’s Office and the
Transportation Ministry for the move sounded benign.
“In accordance with
the prime minister’s instructions, it has been decided not to sign the final
agreement with the European Union, stemming from the need to refrain from making
far-reaching decisions at this time prior to the elections,” the Transportation
Ministry said in a statement last Wednesday.
Unfortunately, though, the
announcement had several negative consequences.
Firstly, it affects
Israeli travelers who had been waiting for cheaper flights. Secondly, it upset
the local hotel industry, which is likely to lose potential European
“We are disappointed and surprised by the government’s
zig-zag. This is a cynical move, and election economics,” Ami Federmann,
president of the Israel Hotel Association, told Globes.
that the agreement is being deferred because of the election is ridiculous,” he
said. “I fail to understand how the state can sacrifice its true interests for
the sake of other interests. I don’t understand this surrender to narrow
interests, instead of seeing the general good.
I presume that it’s a case
of various workers committees, that this is not the time to annoy
Federmann called the delay a blow to incoming tourism, especially
in the wake of Operation Pillar of Defense last month. He said the deferral of
the agreement would prevent European airlines such as Ryanair from flying about
50,000 tourists from the UK to Eilat in the next few months.
angered the European Union on the very day that Foreign Minister Avigdor
Liberman – speaking at The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference – compared
European states’ attitude towards Israel with their abandonment of Jews during
“Specifically at this time, when the European Union is
exposed to criticism by Israel, Europe was willing to sign the agreement, but
Israel has decided to postpone it at this time,” a European source told The
Marker. “Both sides will miss a complete year in which the agreement could have
Israeli airlines, however, were delighted by the
The Open Skies pact, initialed after prolonged negotiations
with the EU this past July, would essentially open Israel’s aviation industry to
greater European competition, much to the chagrin of local carriers, especially
El Al workers committee head Asher Edri praised the government’s
“I’m happy to see that the government understood that difficult
decisions should not be made in a transition period.
We didn’t pressure
anyone,” Edri told Globes. “We are not afraid of the competition that this
agreement will bring, but it should be fair.”
Government sources denied
that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Israel Katz
had given in to pressure from Israeli carriers and the Histadrut.
accept at face value that their reason for the move was not wanting to implement
such a major change during a transitional period. Or it can be argued that
Netanyahu and Katz simply did not want to risk labor unrest and incur the wrath
of local airlines ahead of the election.
But either way, the decision to
delay the Open Skies Agreement ultimately has one primary victim: the Israeli