Israel’s decision to allow Palestinian passengers to use Ramon Airport near Eilat has triggered a crisis between the Palestinians and Jordan, which is worried that the move would cause damage to the kingdom’s economy.
Some Jordanians said they were convinced that the Palestinian Authority – which has publicly expressed opposition to the opening of the airport to Palestinian travelers – had struck a secret deal with Israel.
Others have accused the Jordanian government of failure to take serious measures to prevent Palestinians from flying from Ramon Airport.
Earlier this week, the first group of Palestinians flew from Ramon Airport to Cyprus aboard a plane belonging to the Arkia Israeli Airlines. At this stage it’s not clear whether more Palestinians will travel from the airport in the near future.
Palestinians from the West Bank who wish to travel abroad have until now used Jordan’s Queen Alia International Airport after entering the kingdom through the Allenby Bridge border crossing.
Some 255,000 Palestinians enter Jordan every year, according to Jordan’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. Each passenger spends at least 350 Jordanian dinars during his or her visit to the kingdom. Jordanian travel and tourism agents say that 45% of their clients are Palestinians.
Accusing the Palestinians of “stabbing Jordan in the back,” several Jordanian activists launched a hashtag on Twitter titled “Palestinian normalization [with Israel] is treason.” In response, many Palestinians reminded the Jordanians that their country had signed a peace treaty with Israel.
Majed al-Rawashdeh, chairman of the Tourism Committee in the Jordanian Parliament (National Assembly), said that Israel’s decision to open Ramon Airport to the Palestinians “poses a great economic and social danger” to the kingdom.
Rawashdeh added that the move was a “political decision par excellence” by the Israeli government to harm Jordan’s economy. He claimed that the recent crisis of severe overcrowding at Allenby Bridge, which saw thousands of Palestinian passengers stranded on the Jordanian side of the border crossing, was deliberately created by the Israeli government so that they could start flying from Ramon Airport.
“The Ramallah Authority was complicit with the occupation. The rhetoric of the officials in Ramallah was soft and they did not prevent the Palestinians from using the airport.”Jordanian columnist Maher Abu Tair
Rawashdeh also took the Jordanian government to task for not taking any measure to thwart the Israeli move. He suggested that the Jordanian authorities revoke the temporary (Jordanian) passports of Palestinians who travel through Ramon Airport.
FORMER JORDANIAN minister of information Samih al-Mayaita accused the PA of collusion with Israel in opening the airport to Palestinian passengers.
“Yesterday, the first flight from the Israeli Ramon Airport arrived in Cyprus carrying Palestinians from the West Bank,” al-Mayaita wrote on Twitter. “Flights will continue to other countries at the expense of Queen Alia Airport and transit through Jordan. [This is] an Israeli move to serve its own interests in agreement with the Ramallah authority, which provided a service to Israel at the expense of Jordan.”
Prominent Jordanian columnist Maher Abu Tair also accused the PA of being in cahoots with Israel to open Ramon Airport to the Palestinians.
“The Ramallah Authority was complicit with the occupation,” Abu Tair charged. “The rhetoric of the officials in Ramallah was soft and they did not prevent the Palestinians from using the airport.”
The columnist said that the Jordanians nevertheless do not want to “throw the ball into the court of the miserable Ramallah Authority, because we know that it does not dare prevent travel and tourism agencies from promoting travel through Ramon Airport.”
“Most Palestinians travel by land to Jordan, and from Jordan they travel with the Jordanian airlines from Queen Alia Airport to Turkey and other countries. This means that opening Ramon Airport to them will negatively affect Jordan,” he wrote.
Jordanian parliament member Khalil Attieh announced that he would exert pressure on the Jordanian government to ban any Palestinian who uses Ramon Airport from entering the kingdom.
“My message to the Palestinians is that anyone who uses this airport will not be permitted to enter Jordan,” Attieh said. “In addition, travel and tourism agencies that cooperate with this issue should be subjected to legal measures. The Palestinians need to know that they either chose Jordan that has always stood with them or the Zionists who are occupying their land.”
In response to the criticism, PA presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh told Jordanian Army Radio that the Palestinians “won’t take any decision that does not satisfy Jordan and the Palestinian people.”
“Just as we were keen on preserving the Jordanian custodianship over the holy sites [in Jerusalem], we will be keen on preserving Jordan’s strategic interests, and this is an indisputable issue,” said Abu Rudaineh.
PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh also sought to calm the Jordanians regarding Ramon Airport.
Shtayyeh said on Wednesday that “projects that would harm Jordanian-Palestinian relations will not find a Palestinian partner.”
He added that if Israel wants to facilitate the travel of Palestinians, it should allow them to use Jerusalem Airport (in Atarot), which has been closed to civilian traffic for more than two decades.