Israel and FIFA, the international soccer body, released enthusiastic statements on Thursday about direct flights from Israel to Qatar for the World Cup later this month, with one big difference: FIFA said Palestinians will be on the same flights.
Israel and Qatar do not have diplomatic relations, but Doha had to allow Israelis to attend the tournament as part of FIFA’s terms for it to host. A privately-operated, temporary office in Doha, which the Foreign Ministry called an “Israeli office,” will provide consular services to visiting Israeli soccer fans.
Over 20,000 Israelis have already bought tickets for the once-in-four-years event.
The charter flights from Ben-Gurion Airport to Doha will be operated by an airline with existing landing rights in Qatar. A diplomatic source said Royal Jordanian is in talks to operate the line.
In addition, Cypriot Tus Airways announced earlier this week that it will be operating flights from Tel Aviv to Doha with a "diplomatic layover" in Larnaca, meaning that the plane will go from Israel to Cyprus and then wait a short time on the tarmac before continuing to Qatar.
Will Palestinians be allowed to enter Ben-Gurion Airport?
Palestinians, however, are not generally granted access to Ben-Gurion Airport; rather, they travel to Jordan for international flights.
The Foreign Ministry and the Israel Airports Authority were unable to provide details of how Palestinians will be able to reach Ben-Gurion Airport and whether they will be provided special permission to enter Israel in order to fly to the World Cup.
However, FIFA’s statement was released with the Foreign Ministry’s approval.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino said that “Israelis and Palestinians will be able to fly together and enjoy football together.
“Football has the power to bring people together, it transcends all boundaries, crosses all borders, and fosters unity like nothing else,” he said.
"Football has the power to bring people together, it transcends all boundaries, crosses all borders, and fosters unity like nothing else"FIFA President Gianni Infantino
A Qatari spokesperson for the tournament said that the agreement “illustrates our commitment to respecting FIFA's policies and hosting requirements including the right of everyone to attend matches. This also includes the requirement that Palestinian ticket holders and media are able to travel on these chartered flights with no restrictions as they have an equal right to enjoy the tournament, which is made extra special by it being the first World Cup to be hosted in the Arab and Muslim world.”
Foreign Ministry director-general Alon Ushpiz, however, only spoke about Israelis.
"We have successfully secured all guarantees, including access to consular services for Israelis during their stay in Qatar,” Ushpiz said. “As the first World Cup ever hosted in the Middle East, it promises to be a celebration of football and an opportunity for Israelis to build connections and share cultural experiences with people from across our region and the wider world."
Prime Minister Yair Lapid called the flights “happy news for soccer fans and all citizens of Israel.
“After work that lasted several months, we made the arrangements for Israeli citizens to be able to fly to the World Cup in Qatar on direct flights and will open an Israeli office in Qatar to help fans that will attend the World Cup,” Lapid said.