Israel will start allowing West Bank Palestinians to fly abroad via the Ramon airport outside the southern city of Eilat, the airport authority said Tuesday.
The new Israeli policy, which will allow Palestinians to fly to Turkey without needing to go to Amman, comes amid heavy crowding at the West Bank’s sole crossing with Jordan. However, it’s unclear how practical the imitative will be, with the airport a nearly three-hour drive from the West Bank at its closest point.
Until today, Palestinians wishing to fly abroad needed to travel to Jordan and board a flight from there, or to secure a hard-to-come-by entry permit into Israel to fly from Ben Gurion Airport.
Turkish companies Pegasus Airlines and AtlasGlobal plan to launch twice-a-week flights for Palestinians out of Ramon airport to Antalya and Istanbul later this month and in early September, the Israel Airports Authority said in a statement.
The announcement was thin on details, including how Palestinians would be able to reach Ramon and whether special permits would be required.
The announcement did not include any other options for Palestinians other than Turkey, which is a popular tourist destination for many of them. The airport is expected to start offering flights to destinations in Europe, the IAA said, though it was not clear if Palestinians will be eligible for those flights as well.
The initiative was spearheaded by Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, Maj.-Gen. Ghassan Alian. The Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories unit (COGAT) has been working with the Shin Bet and the Israel Police to ensure proper security protocols at Ramon Airport as part of the initiative, Alian’s office told Hebrew media
Ramon Airport, which was built just north of tourist hub Eilat on the Red Sea coast at Israel’s southern tip, was meant as a gateway for European tourists to reach the resort city, as well as serving domestic flights.
To get there, Palestinians from the northern West Bank will need to travel five hours or more, more than double the distance to Amman, though the latter route can involve long waits at the Allenby Bridge border crossing.
The COGAT initiative was rumored to be set to be announced ahead of US President Joe Biden’s trip to Israel last month as part of his package of steps aimed at improving Palestinian livelihood.
But a Palestinian official who spoke to The Times of Israel at the time said Ramallah had not been consulted about the idea. He dismissed it as impractical and argued that the Palestinians be allowed to have their own airport in the West Bank.
Last year, Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej proposed turning the site of the former Atarot Airport in East Jerusalem, where Israel is seeking to advance a controversial housing project for Jewish residents, into an airfield under joint Israeli-Palestinian ownership. The plan has yet to take off.