Interview by Palestine-Israel Journal
managing editors Dan Leon and Leila Dabdoub

Palestine-Israel Journal: What bilateral and multilateral agreements were made on tourism as part of the peace process?
Hani Abu-Dayyeh: As far the bilateral agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis, there is the Paris Accords (April 1994) that deals with tourism issues between Palestine and Israel, followed by the Cairo agreement (May 1994). The first agreement [Paris] is a very good reciprocal document, in my opinion. However, when we speak about reciprocity in relations, we have to take into consideration the size of each party and the degree of power it wields. So agreements are written in a reciprocal manner but the facts on the ground may differ: on the ground, the Israelis have the capabilities and the power to impose what they want. Invoking security reasons, they have removed parts of the agreement and delayed others. An example is freedom of transport for people, buses, guides, etc. The agreement stipulates the freedom of transport of people, buses and guides, yet, under the guise of security, we had trouble bringing employees from the Palestinian territories into the Jerusalem area. Now this has been resolved and there is a process whereby employees in the tourism sector are able to come from the West Bank to work in our facilities in Jerusalem.
The guides' issue has also recently been resolved and they have been given passes to operate 24 hours a day, all over the country (including Israel), without any problems. Until recently Palestinian guides could not go to Israel, or take groups into Israel, but now matters have been liberalized and the movement of guides between the two sides is easier. From the Oslo agreement until last year, Palestinian guides had to operate almost at their own risk.

Is that connected with the new Israeli minister of tourism?
I think the whole situation changed dramatically after Netanyahu left. The new administration and the new minister are more open. Yes, I definitely see a change from the previous administration when it comes to economic issues. As far as tourism is concerned, the new ministry has been more open and ready to allow freedom of movement. Recently, the first Palestinian tourist transport company has been allowed to operate and has not been hampered at all, be it in going to the airport or anywhere else.

Are Palestinian guides allowed to take tourists to visit purely Jewish/Israeli sites?
Yes, definitely for anybody who is a licensed guide. On either side, the freedom of movement of tourism vehicles and personnel now is going smoothly.
As for the multilaterals, the participants tried to establish the REDWG (the Regional Economic Development Working Group), which is headed on the Palestinian side by Muhammad Shtayyeh, to build regional cooperation. At a meeting in Morocco, they tried to set up, by political fiat, what is called MEMTTA (Middle Eastern Mediterranean Travel and Tourist Association), a body made up of a board of governors from the public sector and the executive from the private sector. This was supposed to enhance regional cooperation in tourism in terms of all areas of work and, particularly, in marketing. In my opinion, this got nowhere. It is just not moving because it is part of the multilateral talks and the multilaterals are not moving. Although everybody says we should cooperate on a regional basis, this area is under the influence of the political fluctuations of the Middle East and will always be liable to the ups and downs of Middle Eastern politics.

Is that also the explanation for Aqaba, the airport?
There were a number of projects proposed and Aqaba is one of them. It did not take off. The Israeli side wants it and the Jordanian side wants it, but the political situation delayed it. The private sector on both sides in all probability wants it. Actually, the public sector and the private sector are not always on the same track. For the private sector it makes sense to operate one airport. It would free top real-estate property for the Israelis, in the middle of the city, and to get rid of a lot of noise. An airport in Aqaba will be a boon for Eilat and it makes sense. [In recent developments, the project has been approved by the relevant authorities.]

Then would you say that the private sector would like to go ahead with cooperation and it is the public sector that is standing in the way due to political considerations?
Let me assure you that on the micro level the private sector has been doing its job, will keep on doing so and will even increase it.

Regardless of political developments?
Regardless of political developments. How do you think we survived during 20 or 30 years of occupation? - Not in terms of developing the economy or the infrastructure, but doing business as a private sector.

Was there cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians under the occupation?
During the whole period there was cooperation. When I had a package from overseas that slept in Tel Aviv or Tiberias, or visited the Israel Museum; or a group brought by an Israeli agent visited Bethlehem and slept there, how do you think we dealt with that? Throughout the occupation there was cooperation. I can assure you that neither side could provide a package of the Holy Land - "a religious program" - without working with the other side. We had to cooperate. There was no alternative. If we wanted to do business, we had to cooperate. It must be understood that the Holy Land: Israel/Palestine, Palestine/Israel is one package.

Even parts of Jordan?
Even parts of Jordan. Jordanians describe themselves as the gateway to the Holy Land. The Royal Jordanian Airlines advertised itself as the "gateway to the Holy Land" even during the occupation period. What does that mean? What is the Holy Land? What is its geographical extent? The private sectors have been working together on the micro level, but not on the official level.

Was this type of cooperation Israeli dominated?
Yes, it was Israeli dominated, but when they had to work with the Arab side in transport, sometimes with our guides and definitely with our hotels, they did so. When the Israelis occupied us in 1967 there were almost no hotels on the Israeli side, except for the Kings Hotel and the King David. So when the Israelis wanted to book hotels, they would book them in East Jerusalem hotels. The infrastructure for tourism in 1967 on the Israeli side was lacking. They did not have enough transport companies, guides, or hotel space, so at that time, they went ahead and used all the facilities in Arab East Jerusalem. Subsequently, they developed, but they did not allow us to develop. We were not allowed to build new hotels, to train new guides; the only area where we were allowed to operate to some extent was in the transport companies. In all other aspects we were limited. In 1967 we had 2,000 rooms in East Jerusalem and we still have 2,000 rooms. This is how Israel limited our growth, while growth was accruing on the Israeli side. So the tremendous growth of tourism between 1967-1999 went to the Israeli side. The Israelis started in 1967 by controlling 10% of tourism, now it is we who are controlling maybe 10-15%. By 2000 the whole situation has been turned around because we were not allowed to expand.

Did the implementation of Oslo permit you to expand?
What did Oslo do for us? Oslo allowed the expansion of hotels in Bethlehem. Until Oslo, there was indeed a very limited number of hotels in Bethlehem. In general, the Israeli military authorities did not allow us to build hotels or issue licenses for guides. It is still very difficult to expand in Arab East Jerusalem. So, today, there is definitely more improvement on the Palestinian side in the whole field of tourism. The number of rooms has expanded tremendously in Bethlehem, in Nablus, in Ramallah, and in Jericho. The infrastructure has definitely improved. The inequality has not been overcome yet; it is finding a new balance. Only in Jerusalem, where Israel has declared itself the sovereign power, are we unable to move forward.

In the case of the Pope's visit [March 2000], has this helped to advance the concept of cooperation?
Obviously the Israelis and the Palestinians had to cooperate, if only because of security. Security is not our subject here. Palestinians and Israelis must have worked together in order to be able to move the Pope, a dignitary of universal caliber, with such ease. It worked very smoothly. It must have required maximum cooperation between various bodies on both sides.
The year 2000 was the millennium; it was also a holy year for Catholics. So the Pope's visit enhances prospects for the future, even if he brought only the 40,000 that came with him. The images on the news were very positive. The perception of the area was diametrically opposed to what people abroad always get from the media. This will have long-term benefits. And you can build on a good image because it is the image we are selling.

In the Arab world, is the normalization process with Israel advancing, or is the opposition to normalization growing? What is the significance to tourism?
Well, the question of normalization between Israel and the Arabs is often raised. I don't know. How do you measure it? With Jordan something is occurring. With Egypt they call it a cold peace. Maybe normalization is occurring with various countries in various degrees. And it is much slower than expected. The euphoria of the Oslo agreement is gone and now we are dealing with the reality of the peace process. It is not so easy, and normalization is not progressing according to the pace the international community would have liked to see.

Is there reciprocity on this level?
As long as there are outstanding problems between the Arabs and Israel, certainly when it comes to the Palestinian issue and to Jerusalem, you are going to have problems. The Arabs will be reluctant to come to full normalization with Israel. The degree of normalization will depend on the degree of peace.

Perhaps in spite of the problems of normalization, the private sector will go ahead. So maybe the Egyptian intellectuals will say one thing and the normalization will continue regardless.
But the Egyptians will not come here. We saw benefits as soon as things were opened up between Israel and Egypt, yet how much tourism was there from Egypt? We have to differentiate between two forms of tourism: regional tourism and long-haul tourism. People coming from Europe, from the States or from the Far East, who want to see all they want to see in the region in one time, that is taking place and cooperation between the private sector is occurring. Jordanians are not yet coming from Jordan to here in organized tours, nor are the Egyptians coming from Egypt. Israelis are going to Egypt, yes. But not vice versa.

Do you think it is true that if peace is achieved there will be almost unlimited prospects for tourism growth in the region because of the potential it has for attracting many different types of tourists?
Oh yes, definitely. Look what happened when we said we wanted to make peace. Israel and Palestine broke two records immediately. Israel and Palestine got three million. Achieving peace or talking about peace is more positive than talking about war. We will have a reverse problem if we achieve peace: what is our carrying capacity? Where do we market? In what niches of the market can we be effective and provide a maximum return on our investments? The country has its own limited carrying capacity. We can't expand the Church of the Holy Sepulcher; we can't destroy the Church of the Nativity and rebuild it, and we can't redo Capernaum. Look what happens to the Old City in Easter. We will have physical limitations. We can't move people in and out efficiently.

What will happen with peace? Will the marketing be joint?
When we are selling the Holy Land, what do we sell? We sell a joint product. We are selling a regional package: Palestine/Israel. You can't get away from it. If you do, both sides will lose.

What are the prospects with peace and normalization?
If I look at the history of this region and try to extrapolate from it, I would say the prospects are probably not good. To achieve peace both sides have to think in radically different ways. The whole issue of a nation-state in the Middle East, with its exact geography is not conducive to peace in the long run. Whatever agreement you want to make, the emotional relation of the Palestinian to the rest of the country, and the Israeli emotional contact with sites on the West Bank, are real. How can we come to terms with some of the things with which we are in love, and that can't be taken away from us? Nazareth, Jaffa, Haifa are parts of my heritage and my history. You need freedom of movement between the peoples, to live, to move wherever they want. Without this, you will always have problems. Each of us is too involved emotionally and historically in each other's areas, and any thinking that this part is exclusively mine, and that part is exclusively yours, will bring about the end of the peace process.