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Holidaying in Israel? Visit Palestine too

    Eli Gonen, once director-general of Israel's Tourism Ministry under Yitzhak Rabin, has an idea to increase Israeli tourism and support the peace process at the same time.

    Cultural and religious tourists could be tempted by advertising combined "Holy Land" packages to "Israel and Palestine", he argues.

    While tourist numbers were up to 2.8 million last year, tourism remained static over the previous decade.

    But Israelis and Palestinians could enjoy a rise to five million within five years if they co-operated in the marketing of joint packages, he believes.

    Mr Gonen was one of 350 participants at a conference discussing the "role of economics and business in peacemaking" at Oxford University's Said Business School on Sunday.

    Jerusalem shoppers are already united, says MK Nachman Shai
    Jerusalem shoppers are already united, says MK Nachman Shai

    Speakers included former Israel ambassador to the US, Itamar Rabinovich, and Karim Nashashibi, economic adviser to the Palestinian Prime Minister and local sponsors of peace-building business ventures such as Lord Stone.

    The event, co-ordinated by Anna Sher, a postdoctoral researcher at Oxford, attracted sponsors including the Anglo-Israel Association and Cornerstone Global Associates, a London-based consultancy founded by Ghanem Nusseibeh, scion of an eminent Palestinian Jerusalem family. Mr Nusseibeh said that his company did a lot of work "to create opportunities for collaboration between Israel and its neighbours".

    He said: "Israeli and Palestinian business people have a more positive story to tell than is portrayed in the press."

    But Hasan al Momani, director of the regional centre on conflict prevention at the University of Jordan, argued that economic initiatives could not replace political progress.

    Former IDF spokesman, Nachman Shai, now a Kadima MK, said pithily; "Economy can't bring peace, but lack of peace harms the economy."

    The shoppers at one Jerusalem arcade offered a "clear example of the current state between the Israelis and Palestinians. Upper-class Palestinian schoolgirls in uniform, rub shoulders with off-duty IDF soldiers, united in the common goal of finding the perfect pair of Gap jeans.

    "Both economies are growing, but without political steps, we are stuck."

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