Finance and Tourism ministries skip government open skies meetings

Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog calls to start talks for bilateral aviation agreement with EU.

plane open skies 88 (photo credit: )
plane open skies 88
(photo credit: )
As Israel's bilateral aviation agreement with the European Union was being put on the government 2007 budget agenda Tuesday, the Finance and Tourism ministries snubbed the committee set up by Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz to examine Israel's aviation policy, saying the matter was already being dealt with. The committee met for the first time on Monday in Tel Aviv without Finance Ministry budget chief Koby Haber and Tourism Minister director-general Nahum Itzkovich. Their absence was reminiscent of the differences Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson had in his previous role as tourism minister with the Transportation Ministry on how to approach the liberalization of Israel's aviation policy. That difference was recognized by the Supreme Court at the time as part of a hearing regarding whether or not Austrian Airlines should be granted more flights into Israel, as Hirchson sought to raise the capacity of foreign airlines on flights here. The Civil Aviation Authority, a body within the Transportation Ministry that deals with granting airlines licenses to operate here, showed less flexibility on concerns the local carriers may be hurt by the increased competition. "The Finance Ministry's stance, as has been made clear more than once in joint working committees, is that the matter is already being dealt with after a government decision in August 2005 to encourage competition in international aviation," Finance Ministry director-general Yossi Bachar said in a letter sent to Mofaz. "We need to work immediately to ensure the feasibility of that decision." Expressing similar sentiment, Itzkovich told The Jerusalem Post that while his reason for not attending was technical, the Tourism Ministry would only join the committee if its purpose was how to discuss how to implement an "open skies" policy more quickly and correctly, rather than to discuss the merits of such a policy. "If we are now entering a process of discussions with the Europeans, there is certainly a place for dialogue on how to do this in a way that will benefit the Israeli economy," Itzkovich said. "But if the idea is to push the process over a number of months when tourism is in such a difficult situation, then we are not interested." Sources close to Mofaz said that the transportation minister formed the committee to discuss the consequences of a bilateral aviation agreement with the European Union to both the Israeli and foreign airlines. "The idea is that the committee can make proposals to the minister [Mofaz] which will bring about a fair competition, without hurting anyone, in order that he can effectively present them to the government in the framework of last year's decision," the source said. Meanwhile, Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog gave his backing for a proposal to immediately start negotiations to reach a global bilateral aviation agreement with the EU, which is scheduled to be put on the table during the 2007 budget discussions on Tuesday.