On the evening of June 26 the annual period of the Hajj begins, during which Muslims from all over the world visit Mecca and perform prescribed religious rituals. Because of the de-jure state of war between Saudi Arabia and the Jewish state, Israeli Muslim pilgrims—who usually number about 6,000—must take a circuitous (and often costly) route via a third country. The same is true for Palestinians. Mark Dubowitz and Tzvi Kahn, writing in the Saudi paper Arab News, urge Riyadh to reconsider its policy:
[I]f the kingdom now withholds consent for direct flights from Israel to Saudi Arabia, it would be a setback for those normalization efforts, not merely a continuation of the status quo. It is hard to see what the Saudis would gain from that.
One way to support the arrangement would be to include Palestinians in the deal. Israel might also consider earmarking its southern Ramon Airport for the flights. After all, Ramon is significantly closer to the kingdom than Ben-Gurion Airport, making for cheaper routes. Its seclusion from Israeli population centers would also help Israeli efforts to monitor outgoing passengers and incoming flights for security purposes.
A pilot program that ran between August and October proved promising, with dozens of Palestinians from the West Bank traveling back and forth from Ramon to Cyprus and Turkey. This program proceeded over the objections of the Palestinian Authority, which fears being sidelined by such accommodations. Jordan, too, has reason to be concerned about the loss of Palestinian passenger dinars at Amman’s airports.
But Palestinians deserve easier travel. Since Israel is willing to be magnanimous in this regard, Saudi Arabia can certainly follow suit by allowing Ramon to be the springboard for direct Hajj flights for Palestinian and Israeli Muslims alike. And that would be a net positive for efforts to normalize ties between [Jerusalem] and Riyadh.