FIFA strikes deal allowing thousands of Palestinians, Israelis to attend Qatar World Cup via direct flights

Authorities in Doha said the move does not reflect Qatar’s stance towards normalisation

FIFA has agreed on a deal that will allow thousands of Palestinians and Israelis to attend the World Cup in Qatar via direct flights from Tel Aviv to the Gulf state, as officials in Doha assured the move is not reflective of Qatar’s stance on normalisation.

“FIFA has met with representatives from FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 LLC (Q22), the operational arm for tournament delivery, and from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Culture and Sport to finalise plans that will enable Israelis and Palestinians to attend matches at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022,” the football governing body confirmed in a statement on Thursday.

“The meeting was conducted in accordance with Qatar’s commitment to FIFA’s hosting requirements,” FIFA added, echoing similar statements by a Qatari official.

“This is part of Qatar’s commitment to FIFA’s hosting requirements and it should not be politicised. We have always said that anyone with a World Cup match ticket will be allowed to enter Qatar,” the Qatari official told Doha News.

“Because of this agreement, Palestinians will now be able to enjoy the first World Cup in the Arab and Muslim world. Our stance on normalisation 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 added, noting “Qatar conveyed to Israelis that any escalation in Jerusalem, Gaza, or West Bank during this time will risk the cancellation of the agreement including the direct flights.”

A source familiar with the matter told Doha News the move will see direct charter flights temporarily operated between Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv and Hamad International Airport in Doha by Royal Jordanian, which already has existing rights to land in Qatar, for the duration of tournament.

The agreement stipulates every flight departing Tel Aviv must have both Israelis and Palestinians onboard or risk falling apart, the source added. More than 8,000 Palestinians have been approved to travel to the World Cup, while Israelis will account for 3,000 of those attending the tournament in the Gulf state.

Gazans who have been under a strict years-long brutal Israeli blockade have been permitted to travel for the showpiece event in Qatar, the source confirmed.

Visitors will need a registered Hayya and have a valid flight ticket to travel to and from Qatar.

Israeli citizens will be provided consular services via a privately-operated international travel company located in an office building, the source added, noting a consular office will not be opened at a diplomatic area in the Qatari capital.

The office will open a few days before the tournament and close shortly after.

Meanwhile, Palestinians will have access to consular services at the Palestinian embassy in Doha.

Commenting on the announcement, FIFA 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.

“Football has the power to bring people together, it transcends all boundaries, crosses all borders, and fosters unity like nothing else. The World Cup is the ultimate symbol of football’s unifying power, and today’s historic announcement provides a platform to improve relations across the Middle East”.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Qatar 2022 said:”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.

“The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 is on course to leave a positive legacy on Qatar, the Middle East and the Arab world, and with 2.9 million of the three million tickets now sold, we look forward to welcoming fans from around the globe.”

Qatar’s anti-Israel position

Qatar has remained vocal in its criticism of Israeli aggression against Palestinians, repeatedly expressing its staunch stance against normalising with Israel and refusing to follow in the footsteps of neighbouring states.

The Gulf state asserts that it is committed to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, a policy that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) adopted ten years ago and which mandates that GCC members refrain from normalising relations with Israel until that country has completely withdrawn from territories it occupied in 1967.

In July, Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani warned tensions and instability in the Middle East will continue as long as Israel’s violations of international law in Palestine persist.

“The most major source of tension and instability will linger unless Israel stop its practices and violations of international law reflected in building settlements, changing Jerusalem’s character and continuing to impose siege on Gaza,” the amir told the Jeddah Security and Development Summit.

Sheikh Tamim’s remarks were made at the high-profile meeting in Saudi Arabia, attended by leaders of the GCC+3—Jordan, Iraq and Egypt—as well as US President Joe Biden.

Echoing similar sentiments by other leaders, the amir stressed the need to address the ongoing illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine, describing it as “a just cause” that hoods “symbolic weight” to both the Arab and Muslim world.

“The dangers looming over the Middle East region in light of the tense international situation require finding a just and lasting solution to the Palestinian cause, which occupies a central position among the peoples of our Arab and Islamic worlds and the forces of peace worldwide, because it is a just cause with a heavy symbolic weight at the same time,” he added.

The Qatari leader slammed Israel’s “politics of force” under which the Zionist state rejects concessions put forward by the Arab world.

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