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sign at ben gurion airport pointing out where bomb shelter in the airport is
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

Khalil Shakiki
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

David Makovsky
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

Mural of Yasser Arafat painted on wall near qalandia checkpoint. The Qalandia airport is near the checkpoint
Photo by Rhonda Spivak


by Rhonda Spivak, September 21, 2014








**** While a lot was heard about Ben-Gurion airport in Israel's summer war with Hamas, there was no media attention about  the fate of Qalandia Airport near Ramallah ****









Having spent the first 25 days of this summer's war with Hamas in Israel, I will remember the day that a Hamas rocket struck a house in Yehud near Israel's Ben-Gurion airport nearly causing the closing of the airport as a game changer. After that happened, Israelis realized they were fighting for their independence -"Nilchamim Al Habayit". Not since 1948 when Moshe Dayan successfully conquered Lod and Ramle in Israel's war of Independence has there ever been a battle over Lod. This war changed that and shortly after that day when most airlines cancelled flights I noticed young people on the highway from Netanya to Tel -Aviv handing out Israeli flags for drivers to put on their cars. This is done usually only for Israel's Independence Day. The message in handing out these flags was clear: We know we are fighting for our independence as a country--if our airport is shut down, the country is shut down.








Alan Dershowitz, one of America’s most prominent pro-Israel advocates, wrote that Hamas’s firing at Ben Gurion Airport “may well have ended any realistic prospect of a two-state solution.” In an article for the Gatestone Institute, a foreign policy think tank, Dershowitz surmised that Israel “will now be more reluctant than ever to give up military control over the West Bank, which is even closer to Ben Gurion Airport than is Gaza" (Note: from the West Bank, the airport and Tel  Aviv would be in range of mortar fire and short-range primitive rockets, which cannot be intercepted by Iron Dome).








Moshe Ya'alon, Israel's Minister of Defence spoke out on September 2 against a diplomatic process with the Palestinians that would include Israel pulling out of the West Bank, saying that such a withdrawal would lead to rockets and mortar shells being fired at Ben-Gurion A‏irport.








The chance of Israel seriously considering relinquishing military control over the West Bank arguably has become even more remote with the results of a new poll showing that Hamas would beat Fatah in PA Parliamentary elections. The poll conducted August 26-30 in the West Bank and Gaza by Khalil Shikaki of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research which shows that if Presidential elections were to take place today in the PA, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas would easily win over PA President Abbas, and Hamas would win the largest percentage of the popular vote in parliamentary elections. (Haniyeh would receive 61% overall while Abbas would receive 32%.)







Undoubtedly Hamas control of the West Bank would provide opportunity to build tunnels to, and create chaos in Jeruslaem and Tel -Aviv.





There is evidence that the U.S. state Department realizes that prospects for a two state solution are not realistic at this juncture. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported on September 4 that David Makovsky, a member of the State Department’s Middle East peace team, was returning to his think tank position.






"The departure of Makovsky announced Thursday by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy is the latest signal that the Obama administration is retreating from its intensive efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal," JTA wrote. "Over the summer, team leader Martin Indyk also quit and returned to the think tank that employed him before he joined the effort in 2013, the Brookings Institution. Other team members have left in recent months and not been replaced. The team, numbering over a dozen at one point, was considered large for such an effort and represented Secretary of State John Kerry’s intense interest in brokering a deal."










There is another airport that wasn't talked about in this war, but it's worth following what has happened to it. 






In 1936, the British during the time of the Mandate constructed an airport at Qalandia in East Jerusalem, that is near Ramallah and the Qalandia UNRWA Palestinian Refugee Camp [called in Hebrew the Atarot Airport] that was opened for regular flights in 1936.





It was part of Jordan until Israel conquered the West Bank in 1967 and took it over.  That airport was operational under Israel from 1967 until 1995 when as reported  in Yediyot Achronot on Jan 30, 1995, two planes were forces to make emergency landings at Qalandia airport since they were fired on from the UNRWA Palestinian refugee camp and were hit by bullets. After that discussions ensueabout the future of the Qalandia Airport (which Israel had renamed the Atarot  airport), and Israel made a decision to close it. 





The route of Israel's security fence is such that the Qalandia Airport  is just inside the Israeli side of the fence. During the course of secret negotiations in 2008 under the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni  reportedly made a promise to the Palestinian Authority that this would be the site of a Palestinian State's future international airport. This promise was reported in the Hebrew-language Jerusalem newspaper Kol Hazman, quoting senior Foreign Ministry officials on the subject, and then referred to by Arutz Sheva and the Times of Israel.


Others such as David Bedein of the Israel Resource Agency say that the report above is baseless and there never was any Israeli committment to hand over the  Qalandia [Atarot] Airport by Israel. "The late Faisel Husseini made that claim throughout 1994, but the late Prime Minister Rabin firmly denied any such committment and the then Foreign Minister concurred," Bedein says."







In February 22, 2012, the Jerusalem Municipality approved the Israel Airport Authority's petition to register the plot upon which the airport is built, bordering East Jerusalem as official State land.







The Hebrew daily Ma'ariv reported at the time that the airport would instead become an industrial complex belonging to the Jerusalem Municipality. The Atarot Industrial Area, located next the airport, is a large industrial park in Jerusalem, covering over 150 acres and home to some 180 factories. The proposed expansion, would turn the land on which the airport is built into a new municipal center for light industry.







The designation of the airport’s land within Jerusalem's municipal boundaries reportedly contradicted the promise that the airport would be transferred to the Palestinian Authority  upon the signing of a peace agreement made by Livni in 2008 as reported in Arutz Sheva.  






I have not seen any recent media reports about the fate of Qalandia airport, but it appears that  Israel  has signaled it was not interested in giving the Palestinians an airport in East Jerusalem, given security concerns  (ones which have been compounded no doubt in this summer's war.) The notion of Hamas gaining power in the West Bank and having access to Qalandia airport would be a nightmare for Israel.






Theoretically a future Palestinian state could have an airport in Gaza near the coast and not in the West Bank at all, but the chance of Israel giving Hamas terrorists access to an airport in Gaza that would enable them to bring in more long range, sophisticated weapons is in, my respectful view, not very likely.  

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

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