Israel sent a diplomatic delegation to Qatar three days before the start of the World Cup to help Israeli World Cup fans, according to an agreement between Tel Aviv and Doha that includes direct flights from Ben Gurion airport to the Qatari capital. This development constitutes a temporary normalization of relations, as the Israeli delegation will work in coordination with the Qatari side.
The Qatari government recently confirmed when the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) revealed a Qatari-Israeli agreement for direct flights between Ben Gurion and Hamad International Airport to Israeli and Palestinian Mondial crowds, that Doha’s position on normalization is clear and that this is only a matter of circumstantial arrangements because of the World Cup.
The Israeli delegation’s presence in Doha would be problematic, however, given the participation of delegations from countries hostile to Israel, foremost among them Iran.
Israeli media reported recently that Israel and Qatar agreed to open a temporary diplomatic office in Qatar during the World Cup, where 10,000 to 20,000 Israelis are expected to attend the games, which will be held over the course of a month.
The Israeli foreign delegations will be allowed to provide consular assistance from the Qatari capital to its nationals coming to the qualifiers to ensure that they respect local laws and avoid friction with rival fans.
Although alcohol is allowed to be consumed in some World Cup-related sites, the ministry issued a public statement advising against alcohol consumption altogether “because of the severity of Qatari rules”, stressing its citizens to be vigilant especially with the presence of “countries that the Israelis are not accustomed to mixing with their families”, as the diplomatic delegation’s spokesman Alon Levy described it.
The International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) announced last week that Qatar will allow the first direct flights from Israel to transport fans to the World Cup, pointing out that Palestinians could travel on it “if they have a travel permit from Ben Gurion Airport”.
Israel’s TUS Travel and Tourism company, Knavem Holdings, said it expected final approval from Qatar on Thursday to operate non-stop flights from Tel Aviv to Doha twice a week. The chairman of the airline, Nimrod Borowitz, said the first plane would take off on Sunday before the start of the tournament, and that most tickets had already been sold out, some with hotel programs.
The reception of the Israelis in Qatar is only part of Doha’s commitments to the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), as the Emirate does not allow the granting of Israeli passports. Under the circumstances of the World Cup, the Israelis will be accepted without the use of a passport, and they will be able to apply for the fan identity card online after the purchase of tickets. The card will be a visa and will allow for the reservation of flights and accommodation in Qatar.
Doha has already removed the name “Israel” from the FIFA World Cup 2022 web page and replaced it with “Occupied Palestinian Territories”, to the dismay of the Arab media, which described Doha’s hosting of the World Cup as “a great stigma”.
Relations between Iran and Qatar, which also hosts leaders of the Palestinian movement Hamas, are close, indicating a complicated situation for the small and wealthy Gulf emirate, which has become a hub for “enemies” and security concerns.
“After normalizing relations with the UAE and Bahrain in 2020, Israelis saw that Qatar could take the same path if it stayed away from Tehran.” Doha ruled that out, stressing that Israel must first give way to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
In another development related to the campaign of criticism against Qatar amid calls to boycott the World Cup on the grounds of human rights, French President Emmanuel Macron rejected any attempts to “politicize sports”.
Macron made the remarks in a video press statement as he arrived in Bangkok, Thailand to participate in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, French BFM reported.
“I think sports should not be politicized,” the French president said, describing the idea as “bad” and noting that the event is “on-going” and Qatar is hosting the tournament.
Macron’s remarks came as Doha faces an informal opposition campaign from a number of European parties calling for a boycott of the biggest event in the sports world. In the past, he said he would go to Qatar to encourage his national team if the team qualified for the semi-finals.
According to the Qatar News Agency, “The World Cup is being subjected to intellectual and media terrorism and psychological war on the basis of racial motives from some parties that do not like to realize the dream of Arab generations to organize the tournament on Qatari soil.”
The 2022 Qatar World Cup begins with the opening match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al-Bayt Stadium, in the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East and the Arab world.