Palestinians claim that Neyantahu’s plan to launch direct flights for Palestinian pilgrims to Saudi Arabia aims to further advance normalisation efforts between Israel and the Saudi Kingdom.

Palestinians worshippers gather before Friday noon prayers at the premises of the Golden Gate in al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, on February 22, 2019, after Jerusalem's grand mufti reportedly opened a gate leading to the site which was previously closed by Israeli authorities.
Palestinians worshippers gather before Friday noon prayers at the premises of the Golden Gate in al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, on February 22, 2019, after Jerusalem's grand mufti reportedly opened a gate leading to the site which was previously closed by Israeli authorities. (AFP)

Palestinian political leaders have rejected Israeli efforts to launch direct flights for Palestinian pilgrims from Israel to Saudi Arabia, refusing to be a pawn between the two countries. 

The Palestinian reaction comes after ruling Likud Party MP Mickey Zohar speaking to local media, said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was coordinating with the Saudi authorities to launch direct flights to Saudi Arabia for Palestinians, who lost most of their lands to the foundation of Israel in 1948. 

Thousands of Palestinians under Israeli occupation travel annually to Saudi to perform the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage, through the guardianship of Jordan, which signed an agreement with Israel in 1978 on behalf of Palestinians. 

Approximately 6,000 Palestinians from Israel make a bus journey every year covering more than 1,600 kilometres through Jordan to reach Mecca in Saudi Arabia. 

Sheikh Kamal al Khatib, deputy head of Islamic movement in Israel told the media that Tel Aviv is trying to use Palestinians as a political tool to strengthen its blossoming ties with the Saudi Kingdom. 

Al Khatib said that by establishing ties with Arab neighbours Netanyahu raises his profile in the Israeli public. And this strategy aims to help him stay in power and hold immunity to escape from corruption charges filed against him. 

Hence, the Palestinians who are under the Israeli authority, said they do not want to be exploited for Netanyahu’s political gains.  

Masoud Ghanayem, a former Arab member of the Israeli parliament, said that Netanyahu is also trying to gain Palestinian votes and undermine the Arab Joint List, a bloc that became a key player in the previous Israeli elections. 

The air of diplomacy between Israel and Saudi is not new. 

In 2018, Saudi Arabia opened its airspace for commercial flights between Israel and India, breaking a 70-year ban on Israel-bound flights through the Saudi. 

Even though Saudi Arabia presents itself as a leader of the Islamic world and claims that the kingdom stands firmly with Palestine, it's been making behind-the-scenes diplomatic manoeuvres to build ties with the Zionist state. 

The two countries’ interest in containing Iran have increasingly converged with both viewing Tehran as the main threat, but Saudi Arabia maintains that any relations hinge on Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands captured in the 1967 Middle East war, territory Palestinians seek for a future state.

The Saudi Kingdom, throwing its support behind US President Donald Trump’s ‘deal of century’, reportedly pledged to fund the project with an aim to end the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation.

As a part of the initiative, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly offered Mahmoud Abbas $10 billion to accept the US peace plan and end the resistance against the Israeli occupation. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies