JERUSALEM – Israelis will be permitted to fly directly between Israel and Qatar during the World Cup soccer competition in November, officials from both nations announced on Thursday, in the latest sign of warming ties between Jerusalem and some Arab governments.
As part of the deal, Qatar will permit Israeli diplomats, under the umbrella of a private travel company, to provide consular support to Israelis during the tournament. The Israeli public broadcaster, Kan, has also been allowed to set up a temporary studio in Doha, the Qatari capital, to provide Israeli viewers with coverage of the matches.
The full details were not available, but those moves, gleaned from interviews and separate statements from Israel and FIFA, soccer’s governing body, fell well short of creating formal diplomatic relations between Israel and Qatar. The Gulf state has ruled out full normalisation with Israel until the creation of a Palestinian state.
The gestures also have 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 direct flights between the two countries.
The announcement mirrored a wider recent thaw between Israel and certain Arab governments that began two years ago. Then Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) signed full normalisation agreements with Israel, in deals brokered by the Trump administration. This year, Saudi Arabia also gave Israeli airlines permission to fly through Saudi airspace, in an arrangement brokered by the Biden administration.
Those shifts highlight how, for some Arab states, their national interests have become a more pressing priority than the immediate creation of a Palestinian state.
For decades, most Arab countries refused to work with Israel until there was a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the growing appeal of economic and military ties to Israel, coupled with mutual security concerns, has prompted some Arab leaders to rethink that approach.
The Qatari government, which has a fractious relationship with Bahrain and lingering tensions with the UAE, made clear on Thursday that any escalation of violence in Israel and the occupied territories during the tournament would lead to the cancellation of the flights.
Qatar has already put strict rules in place for visitors to the World Cup: 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 purely to comply with FIFA hosting requirements.
Officials from Qatar and FIFA, the organisers of the World Cup, said Palestinians would be allowed to fly to Qatar from an Israeli airport, but it was unclear how that premise would be carried out in time for the tournament, which starts in less than two weeks.
A senior Israeli diplomat, Mr Lior Hayat, said the plan had yet to be fully mapped out. “There isn’t really a system for that,” he said. “It was just agreed on this afternoon.”
Palestinians will still need to get approval from the Israeli government to fly out of and reenter Israel, Mr Hayat said – a lengthy process that can take weeks and sometimes months, if it is successful at all.
A spokesman for Mr Hussein al-Sheikh, who leads Palestinian coordination with Israel, declined to comment.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said: “This is great news for football fans and for all Israelis.” But he made no mention of allowing Palestinians to fly to Qatar from Israel.