Naftali Bennett
Naftali BennettIsrael news photo: Flash 90

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

Workers at Israel's airlines have announced that they will strike beginning Sunday, in protest over the decision by the government to discuss full implementation of the “Open Skies” policy, which would significantly increase the number of foreign carriers permitted to fly to Israel.

“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 program, if implemented, is expected to significantly lower airfares because it will increase competition on popular routes, such as New York, London, and other European destinations. However, workers at Israel’s three airlines – El Al, Arkia, and Israir - fear for their jobs because of the increased competition.

Israel had been set to sign an Open Skies agreement with the European Union last December, but the move was postponed because of the elections. The deal is being backed by Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, who said that the agreement is a good one which “will bring a lot of tourists to Israel. The agreement creates difficulty for Israeli airlines because of the competition and they will have to prepare for this."

Katz added, "There is both a chance and a risk here. We should take advantage of the chance and prepare accordingly. It is precisely in Israel, which is an island nation in that its citizens cannot start their car and drive to a neighboring country, that a plane ticket should be a product available at an affordable price, as is common in many countries.”

"We are talking about cost of living, demand competition, even in sensitive areas like agriculture, food and textiles,” said the Transportation Minister. “The decision on the Open Skies agreement was not made by a regulator as it was in the case of cellular companies. We’re talking about a long process that began in 2005 with negotiations and with improvements and repairs. I personally held dozens of discussions about it.”

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.”