FIFA announced on Thursday that shared flights have been organized to permit Israeli and Palestinian fans into Qatar to watch the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The temporary direct charter flights between Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv and Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar, represent the only official direct flights between the two nations.
The meetings which organized the flights were attended by representatives from FIFA, the operational arm of the 2022 World Cup’s tournament delivery team and Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Culture and Sport. The FIFA press release noted that “the meeting was conducted in accordance with Qatar’s commitment to FIFA’s hosting requirements.”
In FIFA’s press release, the organization’s president Gianni Infantino said: “We are delighted that an agreement has been reached for Israeli and Palestinian fans to visit Qatar and attend matches during the FIFA World Cup. With this deal, Israelis and Palestinians will be able to fly together and enjoy football together.”
A spokesperson for the Qatar 2022 organizing committee said in the statement: “Since winning the rights to host the FIFA World Cup 2022, we have always said that all ticket holders will be able to attend matches in Qatar. The announcement today 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.”
Qatar does not share diplomatic relations with Israel, but a temporary office will be set up during the tournament to handle Israeli visitors.
The Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Alon Ushpiz, said: “Today’s announcement will allow Israeli citizens to freely travel to Qatar and attend matches at the World Cup. We have successfully secured all guarantees, including access to consular services for Israelis during their stay in Qatar.”
Two Gulf Arab states neighboring Qatar, the UAE and Bahrain, signed historic normalization agreements with Israel in 2020, but despite direct flights for the World Cup, a Qatari official told CNN that the country’s stance on normalization “has not changed.”
“Qatar’s position remains firmly linked to resolving the Palestinian issue, including a two-state solution in accordance with the relevant Security Council resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative. As of late we have not seen any positive developments in the peace process that would merit a change in our policy,” the official said.
The Qataris had allegedly insisted that Palestinians would be allowed to fly from Ben Gurion in Tel Aviv and conveyed to Israel that any escalation that leads to violence in Jerusalem, Gaza, or the West Bank during the World Cup will “risk the cancellation of the agreement including the direct flights,” a source briefed on the matter, but not authorized to speak publicly, told CNN.
The source added that Qatar’s insistence on allowing Palestinians to fly out of Ben Gurion caused talks to stall “for a while.”
More than the 8,000 Palestinians and 3,800 Israelis have bought tickets for the tournament, the source said.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid welcomed the news and said that after “hard work over the course of many months, we have arranged for Israeli citizens to be able to fly to the World Cup in Qatar on direct flights, and the opening of an Israeli office in Qatar to provide services to fans coming for the World Cup.”
The Qatari official said: “This is part of Qatar’s commitment to FIFA’s hosting requirements, and it should not be politicized. We have always said that anyone with a World Cup match ticket will be allowed to enter Qatar. Because of this agreement, Palestinians will now be able to enjoy the first World Cup in the Arab and Muslim world.”
The World Cup runs from November 20 through December 18.