First direct Israel-Qatar flights for World Cup

The chartered planes will enable eligible fans to travel between the two countries, which do not have formal diplomatic ties.

 By Erin Viner

Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the sport’s global governing body, announced that it has brokered a deal to allow holders of match tickets and a valid Hayya cards aboard direct charter flights between Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion and Doha’s Hamad international airports during the upcoming one-month event.

Hayya cards, also known as Fan IDs, are personalized documents issued to every individual who attends any of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 matches. Some 8,000 Palestinians and 3,900 Israelis are estimated to have already applied for the cards.

“With this deal, Israelis and Palestinians will be able to fly together and enjoy football together,” said FIFA President Gianni Infantino said in a statement.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid issued a statement, saying, “This is great news for football fans and for all Israelis. 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.”

Last June, then-Foreign Minister Lapid announced that Israelis could attend the World Cup in Qatar, which he said “opens a new door for us to warm ties.”

The Israeli leader thanked all parties involved in the effort, who include FIFA, Israel’s National Security Council, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and its Director-General Alon Ushpiz, as well as the Transportation, Culture and Sport Ministries.

The MFA confirmed said that an Israeli consular team will provide necessary services to all citizens who plan to attend the games.

Israeli passport holders can usually only travel to Qatar on special visas issued for sports events or conferences via generally circuitous routes as there are no existing direct flights between the two countries.

A source familiar with the agreement speaking on condition of anonymity was cited by the Reuters news agency as saying that Royal Jordanian Airlines may operate the World Cup charter flights. FIFA emphasized that the flight arrangements are “subject to Israel’s security requirements and operational capabilities.”

A Qatari official said that the agreement applies to all Palestinians, said Reuters, including those living in Jerusalem, West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Saying that the direct flights will not alter Doha’s stance on normalizing relations with Israel, the Qatari official stressed that, “this is part of Qatar’s commitment to FIFA’s hosting requirements, and it should not be politicized.” The source also said Doha had conveyed to Israel “that any escalation in Jerusalem, Gaza or West Bank during (the World Cup) will risk the cancellation of the agreement including the direct flights.”

The United States congratulated FIFA, Israel, and Qatar on the development, which Secretary of State Antony Blinken hailed as an “historic” and “important step” that “holds great promise to bolster people-to-people ties and economic relations.  As President Biden has said, building regional integration in the Middle East and beyond brings prosperity and security to the people of the region.”

Adding that the agreement “will benefit Israeli and Palestinian soccer fans alike, as a step towards expanding greater freedom of travel for all consistent with Qatar’s pledge that all are welcome at the World Cup,” Washington’s top diplomat underscored that, “The United States will continue to engage with Israel and our partners across the region for the benefit of all, and commends Qatar and Israel, both close partners of the United States, for their leadership and spirit of sportsmanship that they have demonstrated with this development.

The tournament is the first to be held in the Middle East, and will be held 20 November to 18 December.