FIFA announces Tel Aviv-Doha charter flights for Qatar World Cup

Qatar says flight arrangement adheres to FIFA’s hosting rules but insists its stance on normalising ties with Israel remains unchanged.

General view of World Cup team flags in Doha ahead of the World Cup.
Qatar said that all those who hold match tickets and a valid Hayya fan ID will be allowed to attend World Cup matches [Suhaib Salem/Reuters]

FIFA announced on Thursday the operation of direct charter flights between Tel Aviv and Doha during the upcoming football World Cup, with Qatar stressing that its stance on normalising relations with Israel, with whom it does not have diplomatic relations, remains unchanged.

Football’s world governing body said it brokered the deal that would allow those who hold game tickets and valid Hayya fan ID cards to board flights from Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv to Doha’s Hamad International Airport during the month-long event.

The Hayya ID card is a personalised identification document that is issued and required by every person attending any matches. At least 8,000 Palestinians and 3,900 Israelis have applied for a Hayya card, a source familiar with the agreement told Reuters.

Federation President Gianni Infantino said that the agreement allows Israeli and Palestinian fans to visit Qatar and attend matches during the World Cup.

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

FIFA however, did not share specific details about how Palestinians will be able to avail the flights, as Israel severely restricts access to Ben Gurion for residents of the occupied Palestinian territories. Palestinians in occupied West Bank normally travel through Jordan and it is virtually impossible for Gazans to enter the Ben Gurion airport.

A spokesperson for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 said that ever since Doha won the rights to host the global event, it has stressed that all ticket holders will be able to attend the matches in the country. The spokesperson also said that this announcement reflected Qatar’s commitment to respecting FIFA’s policies and hosting requirements.

The agreement on direct flights does not change Qatar’s stance on normalising relations with Israel, which is linked to Palestinian statehood that is achieved through a two-state solution in accordance with the relevant Security Council resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative, a Qatari official said.

“Because of this agreement, Palestinians will now be able to enjoy the first World Cup in the Arab and Muslim world,” the official said.

The official pointed out that Qatar has not witnessed any positive developments in the peace process that merit a change in its current policy, stressing that the flight arrangements depended on Israel’s commitment to non-escalation in the Palestinian territories.

Israeli passport holders can usually only travel to Qatar on special visas issued for sports fixtures or conferences. There are no existing direct flights between the two countries.

“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,” said Israel’s outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid.

FIFA confirmed that 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. Palestinians will have access to consular services at the Palestinian embassy in Doha.

The flight arrangement is “subject to Israel’s security requirements and operational capabilities”, FIFA said in a statement.

Qatar’s Gulf neighbours the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain established diplomatic ties with Israel under US-brokered pacts in 2020.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies