Once again it seems that Israel is in a position where it is “damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t.” Israel’s new policy allowing citizens of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to fly abroad through the new Ramon airport outside of Eilat was intended as an act of good faithm easing travel restrictions. But, apparently, it may actually be true that no good deed goes unpunished as people both in Jordan and the PA are criticizing the move.
This week saw the first group of people living in the areas of the Palestinian Authority (PA) – 24 Palestinians, mainly doctors and pharmacists – who were allowed to fly abroad through the Ramon airport. The group flew to Cyprus.
They do not need to fly on special flights arranged just for PA citizens. They can fly on regular flights with Israelis.
The change in policy was implemented after President Biden requested that Israel do so during his recent visit to Israel.
But the Jordanian government is not happy with the move as it will deprive the country of revenues from PA Arabs who would otherwise need to cross into Jordan and then fly internationally from their country.
A former Jordanian minister of information said that opening an airport for Palestinians is “an Israeli step that comes in coordination with Ramallah, which provides Israel with a service at Jordan’s expense.”
A Jordanian commentator stated, “The position of the Authority in Ramallah makes it a partner in the occupation, the language of the officials in Ramallah was soft and did not prevent the Palestinians from going to Sde Ramon, and they should be charged a price for this behavior in relations with Jordan.”
It is estimated that over 300,000 PA Arabs visit Jordan every year, of whom 70% continue on to other countries via Jordanian airlines. Jordan now fears that the opening of the Ramon airport will result in a very large share of this market being taken away.
In Jordan, Israel is accused of luring the PA Arabs with cheap flight packages and saving time at the expense of the Jordanian economic interest.
Officials in Jordan are speaking out against the Israeli move and warn that it may also harm future projects such as the Rails for Peace project, the “Jordan Gate” project to establish a joint industrial zone and even the cooperation to transport Israeli gas through Jordan.
And the PA is also disappointed with the move as the Authority wants Israel to allow it to operate the old Atarot airport in northern Jerusalem for PA Arabs to fly abroad.
In the meantime, the Jordanian government is increasing its criticism of the PA which it feels is not doing enough in this matter.
TPS has learned that a group calling itself the Jordanian National Forum for Support of the Resistance contacted the PA Thursday morning and called on them not to allow their residents to fly from Ramon Airport.
Referring to even the areas of the Negev as “occupied” territory and calling on Arabs to boycott the Ramon airport, the Forum stated, “the step taken by the Zionist enemy to allow Palestinian citizens in the occupied territories to use the Timna airport or what is known as “Ramon” in southern occupied Palestine, and to start operating flights through it as of today, is a very dangerous step and a serious harm to Jordan and our national sovereignty and even our relations with the Palestinian brothers.”
Over the past day, Jordanians have condemned the PA for what they say is a lack of a “firm position against Palestinian flights through Sde Ramon,” which will cause Jordan significant economic losses.
Following the developing tensions between Jordan and the PA, Nabil Abu Radina, spokesman for the PA, said that the PA Arabs will not accept any decision that does not satisfy Jordan or one that harms Jordanian interests.
“The Palestinian side will not make any decision that does not satisfy Jordan, and just as we were interested in maintaining Jordanian involvement in the issue of the holy places, so we will be careful to preserve the Jordanian interest regarding the Ramon airport,” said the spokesman.
On Wednesday, during the inauguration of a transformation station in the southern Dead Sea, PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shteyeh, who was present at the ceremony alongside his Jordanian counterpart, Bashar Al Hassouna, said, “The opening of Ramon Airport harms Palestinian and Jordanian interests and therefore the Palestinians will not be partners in it.”
Shteyeh called on Israel to open the Atarot airport in northern Jerusalem, which was closed in 2000, if it intends to facilitate the movement of the PA Arabs. The Palestinian Authority Prime Minister called on PA residents to avoid the possibility of leaving Sde Ramon.
Shteyeh sent a message of reassurance to the Jordanians who oppose the opening of an airport in the Negev, which would be an alternative to crossing the Jordanian bridges and toll revenues and would even harm Jordanian airlines, saying “the Ramon airport will not be a substitute for the depth of the Jordan in our eyes, the Palestinians.”
However, in the meantime, angry reactions and even criticism against the PA Arabs are being heard in Jordan in light of the departure of dozens of PA residents from Ramon Airport.
On social media, Jordanian activists criticized the exodus of PA Arabs through Sde Ramon and launched a hashtag under the name Betrayal of Palestinian Normalization.
The former member of the Jordanian Senate, Muhammad Almomani, tells “Al Jazeera” that “the Araba agreement stipulates that there will be cooperation regarding the operation of the airport named after King Hussein in Aqaba, but the agreement never dealt with the establishment of an alternative Israeli airport next to it.” Almomani added that this could affect the future of peaceful relations between the countries.
Almomani accused Israel of deliberately piling up difficulties on the movement of PA Arabs at the Allenby Bridge in order to channel them to fly from Ramon Airport and demanded that the Arabs PA express a firm position on this matter and boycott Ramon Airport, until the establishment of the Palestinian state, as he said.