JERUSALEM — Israelis will be allowed to fly directly between Israel and Qatar during the FIFA World Cup this month, officials from both countries announced Thursday, in the latest sign of warming ties between Jerusalem and some Arab governments.
As part of the deal, Qatar will allow Israeli diplomats, under the aegis of a private travel agency, to provide consular support to Israelis during the tournament. Israel’s public broadcaster, Kan, was also allowed to set up a temporary studio in Doha to provide Israeli viewers with match coverage.
Full details were not available, but the decisions, taken from interviews and separate statements from Israel and soccer’s governing body FIFA, fell far short of creating formal diplomatic ties between Israel and Qatar. . The Gulf state has ruled out full normalization with Israel until a Palestinian state is established.
The gestures also have a precedent: Israel and Qatar have publicly cooperated on low-level diplomatic and economic issues since the 1990s. But according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, there have never been any direct flights between the two countries. .
The announcement reflects a recent broader thaw between Israel and some Arab governments that began two years ago. Then Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates signed comprehensive normalization agreements with Israel, under agreements brokered by the Trump administration. This year, Saudi Arabia also allowed Israeli airlines to fly over Saudi airspace, as part of a deal brokered by the Biden administration.
These changes show how, for some Arab states, their national interests have become a more pressing priority than the immediate establishment of a Palestinian state. For decades most Arab countries have refused to work with Israel until there is a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the growing allure of economic and military ties for Israel, coupled with concerns about mutual security, prompted some Arab leaders to rethink this approach. .
The Qatari government, which has rocky relations with Bahrain and ongoing tensions with the United Arab Emirates, made it clear on Thursday that any escalation of violence in Israel and the occupied territories during the tournament would lead to the cancellation of flights.
Qatar already has strict rules in place for World Cup visitors: only people with match tickets and permits called Hayya cards will be allowed to visit. A Qatari official who insisted on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive issues also said the temporary opening to Israelis was only to comply with FIFA accommodation requirements.
Officials from Qatar and FIFA, the World Cup organizers, said Palestinians would be allowed to travel to Qatar from an Israeli airport, but it was unclear how that premise would be achieved in time for the tournament, which begins in less than two weeks.
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A senior Israeli diplomat, Lior Hayat, said the plan had not yet been fully worked out. “There really isn’t a system for that,” Mr. Hayat said. “It was just agreed this afternoon.”
Palestinians will still need to obtain approval from the Israeli government to leave and re-enter Israel, Mr. Hayat said – a lengthy process that can take weeks and sometimes months, if successful.
A spokeswoman for Hussein al-Sheikh, who leads Palestinian coordination with Israel, declined to comment.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement: “This is great news for football fans and for all Israelis.” But the statement made no mention of allowing Palestinians to travel to Qatar from Israel.
Qatar has faced growing criticism from abroad as host of the tournament, particularly over the rights of low-income migrant workers who built the country’s skyscrapers and stadiums, and the treatment LGBTQ people, who are discriminated against and potentially arrested in the autocratic monarchy. . Some analysts have also expressed concern over whether the small country’s infrastructure is ready to handle the influx of over a million fans.
Qatari officials say the country has improved the rights of migrant workers. They seem to have grown increasingly frustrated with criticism in recent weeks, with the Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, suggesting it was a campaign based on fabrication and double standards.
Although Israel and Qatar never established full diplomatic relations, they have worked together publicly for more than two decades. In the late 1990s, Israel operated a trade liaison office in Doha, the capital of Qatar, until tensions between Israelis and Palestinians led Qatar to close it.
Israeli and Qatari politicians have met on several occasions, including in Qatar, and the Gulf state has often allowed Israeli sportspeople to compete on its territory. Israel does not have a team in this World Cup.
Israel allowed Qatari officials to cross its territory to enter the Gaza Strip and fund a football stadium in an Arab town in Israel. Qatar also serves as a mediator between Israel and militants from Hamas, the Islamist group in the Gaza Strip.
While public opinion in the Arab world generally opposes normalizing relations with Israel, Qataris have a more favorable opinion of Israel than most Arabs, according to a new poll by Keevon Global Research, a firm Israeli, and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a German political organization. foundation and research group.
Almost half of Qataris have a favorable opinion of Israel, behind the Emiratis and far ahead of Bahrainis, Moroccans and Saudis, according to the study. Other polls have shown much more negative attitudes in the Gulf toward normalization with Israel.
Patrick Kingley brought from Jerusalem, and Viviane Nereim from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
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