Palestinians can start flying out of Ramon Airport later this month — Israel

Bridge to operate 24 hours a day from Israeli side

An interior view of the King Hussein Bridge terminal, which saw overcrowding last month. (File photo: Jordan News)
AMMAN — The Israeli authorities have approved a plan to allow Palestinian travelers to fly out of one of its airports, according to Israeli media. اضافة اعلان

A first charter flight for travelers from the West Bank is set to leave from Ramon International Airport near Eilat, in southern Israel, later this month, The Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday, citing Israel’s airport authority.

West Bank Palestinians who want to travel abroad must now cross the King Hussein Bridge into Jordan for flights out of Amman. Most West Bank Palestinians cannot travel through Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport, and residents of the West Bank who are not Israeli citizens travel overseas via Jordan. Only a handful of senior Palestinian officials and their family members, who hold Israeli-issued VIP cards, are permitted to travel through Ben-Gurion Airport.

Musa Rahhal, spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Transport and Communications, told Quds News Network last month that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is officially opposed to the idea because it is a unilateral move on Israel’s part that “reinforces the policy of apartheid against the Palestinians”.

“Israel failed to turn Ramon Airport into an international terminal. Now the Israelis are offering us something that did not work for them. This reminds me of the COVID-19 vaccines which Israel offered us because the expiration dates were nearing," Rahhal said.

He added that the PA had previously demanded that Israel hand over Jerusalem Airport (better known as Kalandiya Airport), which was closed after the eruption of the Second Intifada in 2000. Rahhal also said that the PA has been demanding that Israel allow the Palestinians to build a new airport in the West Bank.

He added that the current overcrowding at the King Hussein Bridge was part of an Israeli scheme to force Palestinians to use Ramon Airport. Over the past few weeks, thousands of Palestinian travelers have been stranded on the Jordanian side of the bridge because of unprecedented overcrowding and limited working hours at the border crossing. Jordan blamed Israel for the delays and for not keeping the bridge open around the clock during the busy summer season.

Israeli media reported this week that Israel was planning to open its border office at the bridge for 24 hours a day by the end of September.

Palestinians wishing to travel through Ramon Airport would be required first to apply for permits to enter Israel. Then, they would have to travel at least five hours from the West Bank to the airport, which is located near Eilat, according to The Post.

"Nobody consulted with us on this matter," said Wasel Abu Yousef, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

"What we seek is the return of Al-Quds International Airport to operate as the State of Palestine's airport," he said.

According to Turkish media, under the pilot program, the flights will run twice a week, starting at the end of August, to Istanbul and Antalya on Turkish carriers Atlas and Pegasus, using Airbus A321 aircraft. Palestinians would then transfer to other flights from Istanbul. These flights will not be accessible to Palestinians from Gaza.

According to the Turkish Daily Sabah newspaper, the PA has not supported the Ramon Airport plan and would have preferred to see Israel renovate the former Atarot airport, located on the edge of Jerusalem, right next to Ramallah, which was closed in 2021.

It had been hoped that Palestinians could directly access the Atarot airport from Ramallah without going through Israeli checkpoints.

US President Joe Biden spoke on the importance of improving travel for the Palestinians when he visited Israel and the Palestinian territories last month.

Ramon Airport, which opened in 2019, is about 300km from Jerusalem and is designed to take any planes rerouted from Ben Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv, according to The Post.

President of Jordan Inbound Tour Operators Association Awni Kawar told Jordan News that this decision “addresses the problem of overcrowding on the King Hussein Bridge and eases the suffering of travelers, especially with the recent increase in travelers and the significant problems it has caused”.

He added that “this decision, however, will deprive Jordan of tax fees on tickets, which amount to 60 percent per person. It will also deprive us of the tourist expenses, as some tourists sleep in hotels and use multiple means of transportation”.

“Despite this, I still see that the decision is positive in general, because the problem of overcrowding is an issue that must be addressed,” he pointed out.

There was no official Jordanian reaction to the Israeli announcement.

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