Israel Vetoes Arab Tourism Ministers' Christmas Visit to Bethlehem

Israel initially granted the requests of the ministers from Egypt and Bahrain to enter Bethlehem, but vetoed entry of Qatar and Tunisia due to their 'unrestrained attacks' against Israel.

Due to opposition from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the planned visit of tourism ministers from four Arab nations set to participate in Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem on Tuesday has been canceled, according to senior officials in Jerusalem.

A few days ago, the Palestinian Authority approached the Civil Administration in the West Bank and requested permission for tourism ministers from Egypt, Bahrain, Tunisia and Qatar to enter Bethlehem. The four ministers were scheduled to travel to Palestinian Authority territory on Monday, and participate in Christmas mass on Tuesday evening.

The Palestinian request was considered by high-ranking Defense Ministry officials, and granted. When the Defense Ministry informed the Foreign Ministry, however, things became more complicated. After internal Foreign Ministry deliberations, it was decided that only the tourism ministers from Egypt and Bahrain would be allowed to enter Bethlehem, whereas the ministers from Qatar and Tunisia would not.

When the news reached the Palestinians, and the four ministers, the ministers from Egypt and Bahrain decided to cancel their visit immediately, to show solidarity with the ministers who were refused entry.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor confirmed that the ministry refused to grant the ministers from Qatar and Tunisia entry passes, saying the decision was reached "because of their prominent and unrestrained attacks against Israel and the Jewish people. Aggressive behavior such as this, broadcast on every stage, certainly does not justify a gesture in return."

It is likely the ministers from Qatar and Tunisia were not granted permission to enter Bethlehem because they refused to engage in the minimal contact required with Israeli government officials in order to coordinate the visit.

Palestinian Tourism Minister Rola Maayah told the Palestinian news agency Maan that the Israeli decision is an attempt to harm Palestinian tourism, which has grown significantly over the past year.