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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
04TELAVIV6054
2004-12-01 15:40:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Tel Aviv
Cable title:  

JOINT TOURISM STATEMENT PART OF BROADER ISRAELI

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						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TEL AVIV 006054 

SIPDIS

NEA/IPA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/30/2014
TAGS: ECON KWBG IS ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY ISRAELI PALESTINIAN AFFAIRS
SUBJECT: JOINT TOURISM STATEMENT PART OF BROADER ISRAELI
CAMPAIGN TO DRAW CHRISTIAN VISITORS

REF: JERUSALEM 04500

Classified By: Economic Counselor Bill Weinstein for reasons 1.4 (b) an
d (d)

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TEL AVIV 006054

SIPDIS

NEA/IPA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/30/2014
TAGS: ECON KWBG IS ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY ISRAELI PALESTINIAN AFFAIRS
SUBJECT: JOINT TOURISM STATEMENT PART OF BROADER ISRAELI
CAMPAIGN TO DRAW CHRISTIAN VISITORS

REF: JERUSALEM 04500

Classified By: Economic Counselor Bill Weinstein for reasons 1.4 (b) an
d (d)


1. (C) Summary: On Wednesday, November 24, Israeli Minister
of Tourism Gideon Ezra and Palestinian Minister of Tourism
and Antiquities Mitri Abu Aita released a joint statement
promising Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in support of
international and religious tourism to the "holy land"
(reftel). According to Israeli Ministry officials, this was
a symbolic gesture designed to set the minds of international
visitors at ease, and represents the first step in a planned
series of cooperation discussions on Israeli and Palestinian
sites of religious significance. Ministry and media sources
noted that Ezra is following up the statement with action:
his office approached the IDF with a request to ease travel
for religious pilgrims and tourists on the patrol-heavy roads
from Jerusalem to Bethlehem this Christmas. In addition,
Ezra plans to recommend to UNESCO that the Israeli-Arab city
of Nazareth be named a World Heritage Site. The joint
statement and the Israeli Ministry's attendant activities are
in line with a GOI strategy released last week that targets
"bible belt" communities as a surefire source of increased
religious-based tourism. Gazan Palestinians said that since
the Gaza Strip contains no sites of historic significance
they do not expect any positive effects from the joint
Israeli-Palestinian statement, but they are optimistic about
Gaza's potential as a "beach vacation destination" for West
Bankers if Israel eases closures and the PA invests in
tourism infrastructure. End Summary.

-------------- --------------
Joint Statement a "First Step" In Cooperation on Tourism
-------------- --------------


2. (C) Israeli Minister of Tourism Gideon Ezra and
Palestinian Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Mitri Abu
Aita released a joint statement November 24 promising to
cooperate in promoting tourism to international audiences and
ensuring the "safe and smooth passage" of religious pilgrims,
especially between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, during the

holiday season (reftel). Arie Marom, director of the North
America marketing division in the Israeli Ministry of
Tourism, told Econoff November 29 that the meeting -- the
first of its kind since the intifada began in 2000 -- was
carefully timed with the approach of Christmas, and that
Israeli officials took Abu Aita's own Christianity and his
Bethlehem residency into account when considering whether to
go forward. Marom said that the MoT hoped the meeting would
"play well" to international tourists nervous about visiting
Israel due to security concerns, and added that it was only a
first step in a series of planned Israeli-Palestinian
discussions regarding tourism at specific sites of religious
or historical significance.

-------------- ---
Israeli MoT Serious about Bringing in Christians
-------------- ---


3. (C) Marom explained that Christian religious sites are
Israel's "main tourist attraction," a draw surpassing even
historic Jewish sites. After four years of the intifada, he
said, the Ministry is ready to start actively inducing
tourists back, and must cooperate especially with the
Palestinian and Israeli-Arab officials in whose
municipalities Christian sites are mainly located. To this
end, Ezra reportedly approached senior IDF officials with a
request to ease travel for international tourists and
religious pilgrims between Jerusalem and Bethlehem -- an area
thick with roadblocks and heavily patrolled by IDF soldiers
-- during the Christmas season. He also encouraged the mayor
of Nazareth, an Israeli-Arab municipality that receives over
half of the Christian tourists visiting the holy land
annually, to hold a joint press conference with the mayor of
the adjacent Jewish municipality of Nazareth Illit in support
of further tourism. The Ministry also plans to recommend to
UNESCO that Nazareth be named a World Heritage Site. All
this is aimed at promoting Nazareth and its environs as a
safe, rewarding place to visit.

-------------- --------------
Emissary to "Bible Belt" Will Carry out New Strategy
-------------- --------------


4. (C) Last week the Ministry released a report in Hebrew on
its new strategic marketing plan for North America, in which
it states that the American Christian communities of the
"bible belt" are a source of "tens of millions of Christian
supporters of Israel" whose potential as tourists has not yet
been fully realized, and who will be the chief target of a
"marketing blitz." Beginning this summer, a Ministry
representative will spearhead this campaign from a U.S.
office, possibly to be based in Texas. The campaign will
include multi-media presentations and expositions within
local communities, as well as "workshops" with church
officials and Christian travel agencies in support of travel
to Israel. In a similar vein, the offices of the director
generals of the Ministries of Tourism and Foreign Affairs
released a document this week for distribution to Israeli
missions abroad, which encourages GOI emissaries at all
levels to promote tourism to "groups of supporters" of Israel
-- identified primarily as Jewish and Christian communities
-- within their host populations.

-------------- --------------
Agreement Overlooks Gaza; Businessmen Looking Ahead
-------------- -


5. (C) Gazan hotel owners and restaurateurs are pessimistic
that the joint Israeli-Palestinian statement of November 24
and the cooperative steps the Israeli Ministry says it is
planning for the future will help them. The Gaza Strip
simply contains no sites of religious or historic
significance, Hashim al-Hussaini of Paltrade told Econoff
November 30. While the positive international press
generated by a Ministerial-level Israeli-Palestinian meeting
"could not hurt Gaza's image", he explained, few in the
Strip's tourist industry had even heard that a meeting had
taken place, so irrelevant was it to their everyday business.
Arie Marom concurred that the statement was not orchestrated
with the Gaza Strip in mind. "Gaza will never be a
destination for international tourists," he said.


6. (C) Yet businessmen in Gaza take seriously the potential
for significant "local tourism" if Israel and the PA take
certain steps to facilitate it. Before the current intifada,
a Reyyes Consulting Company representative told Econoff, the
Gaza Strip was a stopping-place for Israeli Arabs traveling
to Egypt, a long weekend destination for staff members of
international organizations, and a beach holiday for West
Bank Palestinians. It is possible to get back to the nearly
full hotels and flourishing beach restaurants of four years
ago, he said, if Israel allows its Arab citizens back into
the Strip through Erez, and if the PA takes a keener interest
in the development of tourist infrastructure along the coast.
He noted that even now construction companies have put up
four new hotels in Gaza -- the drive exists among
businessmen, they simply need an organizing force.


7. (C) Comment: While Israeli officials indicated that
neither side intended the joint statement on tourism as a
confidence-building measure, the timing of the event lends it
positive resonance within both populations. The Israeli and
Palestinian Tourism Ministries made a similar joint statement
of intent to facilitate Christmas tourism last year, but
unlike this year's statement, it received little media
attention, and it did not result in any follow-up discussions.

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