Minister for Regional Cooperation Esawi Frej (Labor) has a new project in mind – that of reopening an airport in Atarot, just outside Jerusalem - that would serve Israelis and Palestinian Authority residents alike.
Atarot currently features an industrial zone with Jewish-owned businesses that employ many Arab workers, and a recent decision of the Jerusalem Municipality to approve the construction of a new residential neighborhood there has attracted attention to the site.
In an interview on Radio 103FM on Wednesday, Frej insisted that his plans were realistic, and explained the need for a second airport in Israel.
“Ben Gurion Airport is already functioning at close to maximum capacity,” he said. “We need a secondary airport, and the strategic infrastructure already exists in Atarot for such a project. It would also provide a solution for those who live in Jerusalem and the environs, and especially for Palestinians who currently go through torments every time they travel abroad.”
Frej noted that, “From a solely economic perspective, and judging by other, similar projects in other parts of the world, this makes a lot of sense – an airport in Atarot would bring in a sizeable revenue for the government. London City Airport, for instance, is much smaller than what we would build in Atarot, and it brings in half a million pounds annually. All the preconditions exist,” he stressed. “I have already begun consultations with the necessary officials, viewed the plans that were drawn up years ago and are still relevant – and it’s clear that building an airport in Atarot would solve many issues. In the coming days, I will be sitting down with Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli to discuss this further, in depth. It simply makes sense,” he said.
Asked whether it was realistic to expect Israel to successfully collaborate with the Palestinian Authority on such a project, Frej responded: “You’re coming with a preconceived notion that cooperating with the Palestinian Authority never works, because it never has done in the past. But I’m talking about an airport that will be good for both parties, a project that is of mutual benefit. I’m providing a solution – a secondary airport that the country needs and that the Palestinians need, one that will provide them with a connection to the rest of the world. Can you believe that as things currently stand, if a Palestinian from Ramallah wants to fly to Paris, it takes an entire day?”
Frej added that, “The plans provide for separate terminals for Palestinians and Israelis, with a single security check for both. The Palestinian terminal will have its own duty-free section as will the Israeli terminal have an Israeli duty-free section. And the Israeli government will be responsible for security,” he noted.
“We have a majority of Jews and also of Arabs in the State of Israel who want to live here in peace and mutual embrace,” he said. “I want to support that majority. The majority of people here want to live here and have a good life here. Let’s now support and encourage that.”
Radio 103FM’s interviewer then challenged Frej’s vision as rose-tinted, calling him “an extreme exception to the rule among Arabs.” Frej responded: “I am not exceptional. You want to believe that I am because that fits in with your world-view, but I represent the majority view in this country.”