Israeli airlines need to facilitate travel for Palestinians to other countries - editorial

Enabling Israeli airlines to facilitate travel for Palestinians to Turkey and other countries makes the utmost sense.

 Arkia flight to Cyprus from Ramon Airport, August 22, 2022. (photo credit: COGAT)
Arkia flight to Cyprus from Ramon Airport, August 22, 2022.
(photo credit: COGAT)

In a positive, historic and important development, Palestinians were able to fly to Cyprus via Israel’s Ramon Airport in the South, not far from Eilat. This is part of a unique initiative that could lead to more freedom and flexibility for Palestinians in their quest to be able to do what most people in the world are able to do: travel internationally with relative ease.

According to the Israel Airport Authority, about three dozen Palestinians flew to Cyprus on August 22 through an initiative that enables them to use Ramon Airport and travel there due to cooperation between Arkia Airlines, the Defense Ministry-run Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories unit (COGAT) and Palestinian businessmen. Israel’s security services have been involved in vetting those who travel. It remains to be seen if this will be expanded beyond the flights to Cyprus and whether the positive gesture and pilot program will work.

The goal here is part of the overall context of Israel trying to improve the lives of Palestinians through economic benefits and other initiatives. The first flight catered to people from Bethlehem, Jericho, Ramallah and Nablus. 

“Until today, flights for Palestinians in a unique framework, and in particular from Ramon Airport, were just a dream. And indeed the dream has been fulfilled,” said Arkia CEO Oz Berlowitz. The first flight went to Larnaca. COGAT has said that its staff is working to enable more people to access these flights. So far, there will be two flights a week on which Palestinians can fly to Cyprus, and perhaps more routes to Turkey in the future. This comes amid the recent renewal of full diplomatic relations between Jerusalem and Ankara.

Until now, Palestinians who wanted to travel overseas needed to first cross into Jordan via the Allenby Bridge border crossing and then board a flight at Amman International Airport.

Annabelle Hotel in Paphos, Cyprus. (credit: HADASSAH BRENNER)Annabelle Hotel in Paphos, Cyprus. (credit: HADASSAH BRENNER)

Palestinian Authority's opposition to the flights

Unsurprisingly, enemies of peace in the Palestinian Authority oppose the flights as part of a general policy. These include militant groups who consistently try to prevent regular Palestinians from “normalization” and want them to remain suffering so they can profit and use the poor as tools against Israel. 

The PA and its institutions need Palestinian suffering in order to get billions from the international community to line the pockets of the oligarchic leadership. Seeing Palestinians travel normally means they cannot be poverty pawns for Ramallah. 

The Palestinian transportation minister reportedly condemned the new initiative and is seeking to “deter” Palestinians from traveling through Israel’s Ramon Airport. The PA is even looking at “punitive measures” to punish Palestinians for enjoying any kind of travel through Israel

The authorities in Ramallah might now try to prevent those who travel via Israel from renewing their Palestinian travel documents. While it is reportedly cheaper for Palestinians to travel via Ramon – due to all the fees, waiting times and taxes imposed when they travel to Jordan – the PA nevertheless may try to pressure tour offices that assist travelers.

The tragedy of the PA always putting roadblocks to prevent peace with Israel is now more stark than ever in light of the Abraham Accords and Israel’s renewed diplomatic ties with Turkey. Here is a unique example where a pilot program in its infancy is already being threatened by Ramallah. 

The preference of these forces is to sow division as opposed to fostering success. The Abraham Accords’ winds of change, which brought an opportunity for coexistence in the wider region and a new possibility for interfaith dialogue, are a huge challenge to those who have thrived for so long from conflict.

The Ramon Airport initiative is welcome news. It requires careful planning and the utmost attention to security issues. However, the fact that tens of thousands of Palestinians have worked in Israel for years with few security incidents illustrates that it is possible to secure people who want to transit through Israel. 

Enabling Israeli airlines to facilitate travel for Palestinians to Turkey and other countries makes the utmost sense.