There could be no room at the inn in Bethlehem this Christmas because Palestinian Authority hotels do not conform to Israel's Ministry of Health green pass Covid regulations.
Israel's plans to reopen for vaccinated foreign tourists on November 1, and which should be published in the next few days, have angered the Palestinian Authority because visitors will not be allowed to stay over in hotels in Bethlehem.
Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association CEO Yossi Fatael estimates that before Covid 20% of hotel nights spent by visitors to Israel are in Bethlehem hotels amounting to hundreds of thousands of hotel nights annually. "Bethlehem hotels are in practice managed as a neighborhood in Jerusalem."
In the main these are primarily tourists coming with organized groups from Eastern Europe and Africa, whose main consideration in staying in hotels in Bethlehem is the cheap price and proximity to the Christian holy sites. These groups use Palestinian tour buses and Palestinian tour guides and switch to Israeli buses and guides at the checkpoint near Gilo.
Fatael explained, "Before Covid the Palestinian Authority was an integral part of the Israeli tourism product. Now with the renewal of traffic, it is the issue of health rather than economics that decides and it is obvious that with the start of a trickle of tourist traffic to Israel there will be strong competition between the hotels in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, which there wasn't before the Covid crisis but now supply will outstrip demand."
Only a limited number of tourists are expected from November 1 with only visitors from the 40 countries (mainly the EU) with which Israel has a mutual Covid vaccination agreement allowed into Israel. But those visitors must have had three vaccinations, or two if the second vaccination was less than six months ago. An exception will be made for a maximum of 1,000 people in tour groups per day, providing they have had two vaccinations. For the time being Israel has no mutual vaccination agreement with the US, Canada and UK but it is hoped that one can be agreed.
Even before Covid, tourists were not allowed to enter the Palestinian Autonomy region in Bethlehem without special permission from the IDF. But in practice tourists were allowed to cross from Jerusalem to Bethlehem unhindered.
With the reopening of Israel's borders to tourists for the first time since March 2020, the Palestinian Authority is desperate for tourists and their money and is furious at the restrictions being placed on them.
Palestinian Minister of Tourism Rula Maayah will convene a press conference on the matter on Saturday and has protested to both senior Israeli military officers and government ministers.
Palestinian tourism businesses are also in contact with their counterparts in Israel. Tourism in the Palestinian Authority was growing fast before the Covid pandemic and was one of the main economic industries with Bethlehem and Jericho the main cities visited.
Israel's Ministry of Health said, "The plan for tourism in small separate groups has been built carefully in order to ensure a safe visit to Israel for tourists. In the first stage accommodation has only been approved to places operating according to the green pass regulations."
"The request by tourist organizations in Bethlehem has been passed on to the professional bodies in Israel and there are currently discussions with various organizations examining the conditions and if it will be possible for tourists to stay over in the Palestinian Authority."
A spokesperson for Israel's Minister of Regional Cooperation Issawi Frej said, "Opening the tourism season in Bethlehem and the Palestinian Authority is important for rehabilitating the Palestinian economy and is in both the Israeli and Palestinian joint interests. And so we are working with the organizations involved, both Israelis and Palestinians to help form a plan that will ensure providing a safe and healthy solution and an economic and tourism solution that will allow the return of tourists to hotels in Bethlehem and other Palestinian cities, now and ahead of Christmas."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on October 14, 2021
Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2021