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
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
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
Is that connected with the new Israeli minister of
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
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
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
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
Was there cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians under
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
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
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.