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Cablegate: Bethlehem: Tourism Surges, Commerce Hindered By

VZCZCXRO9517
OO RUEHROV
DE RUEHJM #1915/01 2941315
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 201315Z OCT 08
FM AMCONSUL JERUSALEM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3045
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 JERUSALEM 001915

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

NEA FOR FRONT OFFICE; NEA/IPA FOR GOLDBERGER/LENTZ; NSC FOR
PASCUAL; TREASURY FOR AHERN
DEPT PLEASE PASS TO USAID FOR ANE/MEA:MCCLOUD/BORODIN

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON EFIN ETRD KWBG IS
SUBJECT: BETHLEHEM: TOURISM SURGES, COMMERCE HINDERED BY
ACCESS RESTRICTIONS

1. (SBU) Summary: Bethlehem businesses continue to suffer
under the requirement to export goods via Tarqumiya, a
crossing point nearly 40 kilometers south of the city. Hotel
occupancy is surging as a result of increased numbers of
visitors, although tour guides, drivers, and businessmen
continue to seek more permits. Local officials also
described steady initial progress on the French-sponsored
Bethlehem industrial zone. End Summary

Bethlehem businesses suffer lack of access
------------------------------------------

2. (SBU) Samir Hazboun, Chairman of the Bethlehem Chamber of
Commerce, told EconOff that Bethlehem businesses are still
desperate for alternatives to the Tarqumiya crossing as a
means of transporting goods to Israel and Jerusalem. He said
increased transportation costs and damage done to goods
during the screening and back-to-back transfer process at
Tarqumiya is slowly suffocating Bethlehem businesses. Some
are choosing to send small quantities of goods out via
private car, he said, while others are simply giving up.

3. (SBU) Hazboun said he requested Israeli Civil Affairs to
allow more trucks from Bethlehem to use closer checkpoints --
specifically al-Walaja and Tunnels, as well as another access
point near Daniel settlement. He said he is also pushing the
GOI to accelerate work to open Al-Nu'man/Mazmouira for
commercial traffic. (Note: Currently, only trucks carrying
stone and marble are allowed to use Tunnels checkpoint, and
only during restricted hours. Fifty-five to sixty pass
through per day. Most other trucks are diverted 39 km south
to Tarqumiya. End note.) According to Hazboun, Bethlehem
bakers send 20,000 loaves of bread to Jerusalem each morning,
most through Tarqumiya (a 100 km one-way trip).

Tourism
-------

4. (SBU) Bethlehem hotel occupancy rates are at record levels
in 2008, and the demand is "beyond capacity." Ministry of
Tourism official Majed Ishaq reports occupancy rates
averaging over 85 percent in 2008 (compared to 35 percent in
2007), and Bethlehem hotels "99 percent" booked through the
end of November. Ishaq attributes the increase to
improvements in the political atmosphere, as well as public
and private sector efforts to promote Holy Land tourism and
the absence of major security incidents. Hazboun said four
new hotels are being built in Bethlehem.

5. (SBU) According to Hazboun, only 45 Palestinian tour
guides have permits to enter Israel, though the demand is
much higher. In addition, Arab-Israeli tour guides and bus
drivers are prohibited from entering the West Bank for
security reasons. Hazboun said Arab-Israeli guides and
drivers, despite the prohibition, are sometimes allowed to
enter through the Rachel's Tomb checkpoint. When they are
turned away, buses travel ten minutes down the road to
Tunnels checkpoint (where they pass easily) and enter
Bethlehem via a side road. Hazboun said GOI officials are
aware of this workaround and do not interfere, but would not
agree to standardize access for Arab-Israeli drivers and
guides via Rachel's Tomb.

Bethlehem Industrial Zone
-------------------------

6. (SBU) Hazboun reports steady progress in the planning
stages of the Bethlehem Industrial Zone, a joint project with
the French Government announced during President Sarkozy's
visit earlier this year. The land identified for the
industrial park is entirely located in Area A and is owned by
the PA Ministry of Awqaf and private citizens. The closest
checkpoint will be Al-Nu'man/Mazmouria (when open).

7. (SBU) The acquisition of the land will not be without
difficulty, as more than one hundred private land owners have
been identified and only a few can prove ownership. Hazboun
said he wants to keep the project low-profile, in contrast to
other proposed industrial parks, where, he believes,
expectations have been raised and land owners have been able
to hold projects hostage.

Trader Permits
--------------

8. (SBU) According to Hazboun, Bethlehem businessmen

JERUSALEM 00001915 002 OF 002


currently hold between 650-700 trader/businessman permits.
There are also 4,000 worker permits and 142 businessman cards
(BMCs) held by Bethlehem residents. (Note: Trader permits are
valid for three months and grant daytime access to "Green
Line" Israel; BMCs are valid for six months and some allow
overnight stays.) Hazboun said he has given up trying to
facilitate individual trader permits, so he does not know how
many requests are pending. Individual Palestinian
businessmen who meet age and other requirements apply
directly to the GOI via the DCOs.

9. (SBU) Hazboun remains involved in a few permit cases that
have dragged on for years. He said one case involved the
only distributor of maternity clothes in the West Bank,
married to an East Jerusalemite and therefore apparently
unable to secure a permit from the GOI. Hazboun said a 63
year-old baker with U.S. legal permanent residence is facing
similar difficulties.
WALLES

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