Daily Israel Report

Katz Won't Back Down on 'Open Skies' Despite Strike Threat

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz clarifies that he has no intention of backing down from the “Open Skies” program.
By Elad Benari, Canada
First Publish: 4/19/2013, 11:45 PM

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz
Flash 90

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz clarified on Friday that he has no intention of backing down from the “Open Skies” program and that he will bring the agreement for Knesset approval as scheduled on Sunday.

Workers at Israel's airlines have announced that they will strike beginning Sunday, in protest pf the full implementation of the “Open Skies” policy. The program would significantly increase the number of foreign carriers permitted to fly to Israel and workers at Israel’s three airlines – El Al, Arkia, and Israir - fear for their jobs because of the increased competition.

Katz, however, was unfazed by the threats of the strike, telling Channel 2 News in an interview Friday evening that he intends to bring the agreement to the Knesset as is, without making any changes to it.

"It was clear to me that this agreement would be approved," said Katz, adding, "The Europeans have confirmed that they fully expect that Israel will do its part.” The agreement was set to be signed with the EU last December, but the move was postponed because of the elections.

Katz added that the agreement will bring about a reduction in airfares and increase tourism. "It will also produce many jobs," he said. “We’re bringing good news here."

Asked about a report sent to him by the chairman of El Al’s board of directors and which outlined the dangers of the program, as the airlines see them, Katz said, “Documents of this kind are referred to the Legal Counsel of the Ministry of Transportation. The issue is public. The program benefits the citizens and dozens of meetings have been held on the subject. In any case - the government is the one that decides and signs agreements with the European Union."

The agreement, said the Transportation Minister, “cannot be changed." He clarified that he fully intends to bring the wording of the agreement for Cabinet approval on Sunday and concluded by saying, “Anyone who threatens with strikes is threatening no one but himself.”

Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett said on Thursday that he is opposed to the planned strike by Israel’s airlines.

“One needs to use the threat of strikes wisely. Flights and airports are a national resource of the State of Israel and it is inappropriate to stop them from working every time there is a problem," said Bennett, who indicated that he supports the “Open Skies” program.

The Histadrut labor union announced that is backing the planned airline strike, saying it believed Israelis would support the strike. “Israeli citizens will not support a deal that will sacrifice the incomes of thousands of families just to please foreign carriers.”

(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)