BETHLEHEM, Palestine (eTN) – Last Tuesday, Bethlehem received a distinguished guest at one of its hotels, the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was on his first night in Bethlehem.
Blair declared the little town safe for tourists and pilgrims. He urged Israelis to cooperate in facilitating the access to Bethlehem in an attempt to revive the tourist movement and the development of the city.
On Wednesday evening, a group of 20 Israeli high-level businessmen from across the economic sectors of Israel dined with their Palestinian counterparts and Palestinian Tourism Minister Khouloud Daibes at Jacir Palace Intercontinental Hotel before a tour in the city.
That event was unprecedented and the first attempt by Israelis and Palestinians to show determination in grabbing the opportunity to start a new era of cooperation and mutual interests in peace. The initiative came under the support of the Swedish government and its sponsored partner, the Palestine International Business Forum chaired by the prominent Palestinian businessman Zahi Khoury and vice-chairman Amiram Shore, a pioneer in the Israeli Information Technology sector.
At the same time, though separately, church leaders from Australia are spending two nights in Bethlehem and have called for increase in the pilgrimage visits to Palestine by not limiting the visits to the sites but also to the Living Stones, the inhabitants.
By December, the number of tourists arrivals in Bethlehem reached half a million, showing a substantial increase in incoming movement compared to the last five years. The average room occupancy reached its highest mark since the beginning of the Intifada in 2000.
Bethlehemites and the tourism private sector say they are looking forward for a prosperous holiday season and have expressed that they are very appreciative of the significant visits that they consider signs of peace and stability