An Israeli plan permitting Palestinian travelers to fly out of one of its airports has received official approval. A first charter flight of passengers from the West Bank is set to leave from Ramon International Airport near Eilat in southern Israel later this month.
Amir Assi, of Al-Amir Group, told The Media Line that after meeting with Israeli civil administration officials on Monday he was given the nod to advertise for a pilot program to fly the first charter plane to Antalya, Turkey for only Palestinian passengers mainly from the southern West Bank.
“For the plan to succeed and (to ensure) the security concerns are addressed, we chose to allow travelers to carry with them the minimum,” Assi said.
The first charter flight will take place on Sunday, August 21.
Assi explains that the focus to find travelers at first will be on Bethlehem and Hebron in the southern West Bank, because the distance is relatively shorter to the remote airport.
Will Palestinians from Gaza be included?
It’s unclear yet if Palestinians from the Gaza Strip will be included in the pilot program. “Travelers will experience the same steps that passengers go through when they leave through Allenby Bridge,” according to Assi, whose company makes connections between tourists from the Palestinian Authority and the rest of the Arab world.
Palestinians crossing the Allenby Bridge checkpoint connecting Jordan and the West Bank first must go through several Israeli security checkpoints.
The only outlet for the Palestinians is Queen Alia Airport in Jordan, but first they have to travel through Israeli-run border crossings to Jordan, which operate under limited hours, and are usually packed with travelers.
“To speed up the process, travelers are asked to take with them small pieces of luggage, but they can come back with large suitcases.”Amir Assi
Assi, who also serves as a consultant for several airlines, says he has been working on the initiative for more than a year, insisting that it will benefit Palestinians by saving them money.
“When a Palestinian leaves through Jordan, sometimes they have to spend a night before catching a flight, now they can flight directly to their destination,” Assi said. Sources tell The Media Line that the Palestinian Authority has been informed of the Israeli plan, but it has not responded officially to the news, and has yet to say if the PA will participate.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has demanded the opening of al-Quds Airport in Qalandia in the West Bank and the removal of all obstacles in order to allow people and goods to move freely to and from the Palestinian territories.
He called on Israel to open al-Quds Airport to the Palestinians in what appears to be a direct rejection of the proposal to allow Palestinians to fly out of Ramon Airport.
Initially, news of the Israeli proposal received mixed reviews. While those in favor of the plan say it will benefit Palestinians, those who oppose the plan are demanding their own airport.
Talaat Alawi, head of With Dignity - the National Campaign for Palestinian Freedom of Movement, told The Media Line that “Palestinian citizens have the right to decide for themselves. No one decides for him.”
Booking will be done through Palestinian tour operators in the West Bank. Passenger will meet in one centralized location before boarding charter buses, and then will have to go through an Israeli checkpoint for a security check before the long ride to the airport, along with a security escort.
Ramon International Airport, which opened in January 2019, has struggled to attract airlines and passengers, and Israeli officials are hoping this plan will inject new life into the airport.