Direct flights for Arab-Israelis to Mecca might be possible this year

According to a report initially published by “Maariv” in Israel, following the contacts that began about a year ago, there is a possibility that Muslims living in Israel will be able to arrive by direct flights from Tel Aviv or the Ramon Airport to Saudi Arabia for the purpose of the pilgrimage to Mecca. These reports have evoked resonance and new hope in Arab-Israeli society. The Hajj will be held this year between the dates June 26 to July 1. Last year, about 2,700 pilgrims left Israel, and this year their number is expected to increase to about 4,500. 

Up until this point, most of the pilgrims have crossed the border into Jordan and from there continued to ports in Jeddah or Medina, some using flights with connections at the Amman airport And some traveling on buses.

Last Friday it was reported that the talks that began about a year ago led to a breakthrough, and Riyadh is inclined to approve the move. "Many questions are running in the Arab society about this. I think the prices will be cheaper than what is paid today. It is important to have the option to enter there using an Israeli passport," Muhammad Abu Farach, the owner of the travel agency Mix Tours in the Israeli-Arab city of Baka al-Gharbia, told reporters.

Samir Ghanem, who lives in the Arab village of Zemar, estimated that if it would indeed be possible to arrive by direct flights,  he would make a pilgrimage to Mecca. "People are excited about the possibility that this might happen and there will be direct flights.”

Despite the positive reports about another elevation in the relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, in the most recent meeting of the Arab League that took place in Saudi Arabia, Prince Mohammad Bin Salman seemed unusually sympathetic towards Abu Mazen and the Palestinian cause. "The Palestinian issue is still the main issue, and at the top of our foreign policy priorities. We will not hesitate to support the Palestinian people in regaining their lands and rights, and in establishing an independent Palestinian state with sovereignty within the borders of '67, with East Jerusalem as its capital, in accordance with the UN resolutions and the Arab peace initiative." 

Mahmoud Abbas' recent visits to Saudi Arabia mark an improvement in relations with the kingdom. In the meantime, some of the financial aid from the Saudis that is transferred to the Palestinians has also been resumed, but the situation has not yet returned to normal. Palestinian sources say that it was important for the PA chairman to mend his relationship with Saudi Arabia, a player that established its position as a rising regional power. However, according to the PA's inner sources, Bin Salman's warm statements at the Arab League summit regarding the Palestinian issue do not necessarily indicate honest complete support for the Palestinian Authority and its leaders.

There is a lot of inner animosity towards the Palestinians who have received tens of Billions in aid from the Arab world but have little to show for it in terms of building a Palestinian State. In the 30 years since Oslo, the Palestinian leadership has gotten wealthier while the society itself has devolved into tribal militant groups. From road infrastructure to buildings like hospitals and schools, many parts of the nation appear to be third world and the violence within Palestinian society has caused concern in some Arab states. Arabs had hoped that by now, there would be a thriving society in Palestine, however with the focus solely on removing Israel from the map, the country has not been able to move forward and progress as a unified nation.

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