Several North African and Persian Gulf states have promised to allow Israeli airliners flyover rights, among other concessions, in exchange for West Bank settlement construction freezes, the Washington Times reported on Tuesday. According to an unnamed US official, American special Middle East envoy George Mitchell received personal declarations from several Arab states that in addition to giving Israel flyover rights, they would open interest sections in Israel and end a longstanding travel ban against Israeli citizens if Israeli pledges to completely freeze its construction of settlements in the West Bank.
Saudi Arabia, however, has maintained that flyover rights will only be granted if a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is met.
The report comes amid a scheduled meeting between US President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Settlements have become central to any peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel has thus for only committed to a temporary 6-month freeze while the Palestinians have demanded a permanent freeze to all settlement constriction.
As things stand, Israeli airliners traveling to the Far East must avoid flying over Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan. This detour adds several hours to the flight leading to higher fuel costs.
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