Israelis and Palestinians will be able to fly directly to the FIFA World Cup in Qatar from Tel Aviv for the first time in what’s being called a massive breakthrough agreement for relations between Israel and Qatar.
FIFA made the announcement Thursday. Charter flights to Doha from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv for the tournament will be open to all soccer fans from the Palestinian territories, FIFA said. It includes residents and accredited media works from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
FIFA said a temporary consular service would assist Israelis in Doha during the tournament. Around 3,800 Israelis and 8,000 Palestinians have applied for the Hayya card, which acts like an entry visa to Qatar for the soccer tournament.
“Consular services for Israeli citizens will be provided in coordination with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs through a designated privately operated international travel company based in Doha,” FIFA added.
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza face a roadblock as they do not have their own airport and must apply for a hard-to-obtain permit to use the airport in Tel Aviv. Usually the permits are only approved shortly before takeoff, it at all. Israel could still refuse to grant exit permits to residents of blockaded Gaza seeking to fly out of Tel Aviv to attend the World Cup.
Israeli officials didn’t have any immediate details on how many flights would take place or how many Palestinians would be allowed to travel. Ahmad Deek, the director-general of the Palestinian Foreign Ministry, told The Associated Press it was the first he’s heard of the flight news.
Israeli citizens cannot ordinarily fly directly to Doha or enter Qatar on their Israeli passports. The two countries have no diplomatic relations. However, Qatar helps mediate between Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers during rounds of conflict.
Doha told Israel “any escalation in Jerusalem, Gaza or the West Bank during this time will risk the cancellation of the agreement – including the direct flights,” the Qatari government said.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid welcomed the agreement. He said it was a result of “hard work over the course of many months.”
The Qatari government said the travel arrangement for Israelis was “part of Qatar’s commitment to FIFA’s hosting requirements and it should not be politicized.”
The World Cup begins Nov. 20. FOX Sports is the U.S. broadcast rights holder.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.