Israel’s national carrier El Al has formally applied to the Ministry of Civil Aviation to begin flying to the Maldives from December.
President Mohamed Nasheed’s Press Secretary, Mohamed Zuhair, said he believed the government was inclined to grant permission to the airline.
“Despite the reservations of the Adhaalath Party and other religious groups [in the Maldives], El Al flies to many Arab capitals and is even accessible to those people claiming to work against Israel, who seem to have no objections to it,” Zuhair observed.
He did acknowledge that permitting the airline to fly the Maldives represented “a political obstacle”, but suggested it was “one for the Adhaalath party to explain.”
“Maldivians have not been directly affected by any actions taken by Israel, and the Maldives is in fact involved in peace initiatives undertaken in the Middle East by the Maldivian government,” Zuhair said. “I don’t see the justification for not accepting an Israeli airline that is accepted by Arab states claiming to be victims of Israel.”
The religiously-conservative Adhaalath Party has declared it will terminate its coalition agreement with the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) if it allows an Israeli airline to fly to the Maldives.
In an earlier statement on the matter in April, the party claimed there “were reasons” why out of the 50 Islamic countries, 48 had declined permission for El Al to operate.
“It is because Israel is the biggest enemy of the whole Muslim community, a country that has stolen the holy lands of Muslims, a country that is committing violence against the people of Palestine and as Israeli flights are targets of terrorist organisations, it raises security concerns,” the party said.
An earlier request by the airline’s charter subsidiary Sun D’Or was denied after Israel’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) revoked its license ruling that it was functionally indistinguishable from El Al.
The rebranding effort was an attempt by El Al to circumvent religious backlash from ultra-orthodox Israeli groups over operating flights on the Sabbath and religious holidays, which it claimed were leaving it unable to compete with other major carriers.
Strong anti-Israel sentiment persists in the Maldives. Visiting Israeli eye surgeons from the ‘Eyes from Zion’ NGO were in November met with protests and the burning of the Israeli flag in Male’s Republic Square. The Islamic Foundation NGO contested at the time that Israeli surgeons “have become notorious for illegally harvesting organs from non-Jews around the world.”