Our hitherto silent Mid East envoy who enjoys such a close working relationship with gorgeous, pouting, leggy and lovely brunette Ruth Turner , was on the BBC4 "Today" programme this morning. It was Ruth , who now runs his office at Yale University (real handy for her dad's office as well) who acted as the Number 10 go between for Lord Levy, when he was trawling for funds for the 2005 election offering coronets for cash amongst his rich North London pals such as Sir David Garrard, Barry Townsley, and Andrew Rosenfeld.
Anyway Tony surprised us all by representing the West Bank as a booming economy under the wise hands of the Quisling Abbas and explained that Bethlehem was now awash with visitors.
Evidently there has recently been a concerted PR campaign to boost the upturn in visitors to Bethlehem - but it is a picture that is somwhat distorted.
Ynet reported on Christmas Day (when elsewhere the murderous genocidal Government set "Cast lead" in motion in Gaza ) that, "Thousands of Christian pilgrims gathered in Bethlehem's Manger Square on Wednesday to celebrate Christmas under the protection of security forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
It appears that 500 extra security men arrived from Ramallah and Jericho to provide security for the religious festival. Similar deployments have taken place across the West Bank over the past year with US backing.
The picture painted of happy Christians jostling the crowded streets was somehow tarnished by the news that , "About 900 from Gaza applied for Israeli permission to go to the site where Christians believe Jesus was born, but only 300 got it." .. of course, whether they got back to Gaza we don't know.
It is also possible that the concrete 8 metre high (26 feet) apartheid wall with watchtowers which visitors can enjoy viewing between Jerusalem and Bethlehem as an ugly scar defiling holy Christian sites lends a sombre backdrop to this joyous and bustling crowd.
However Tourism ROI is a trifle more upbeat listing the intense efforts made by Governments - rather reminscent of the Liverpool Garden festival extravaganza organised by Michael Heseltine after the Toxteth Riots ....
Visitors to Manger Square arrive through streets repaved by Germany, past stairways rebuilt by Norway and walk through a marketplace constructed by Japan. The square itself, rebuilt by Japan and the USA, is now a gracious stone-paved plaza, no longer a parking lot for tour buses. A Swedish-funded Peace Center is under construction nearby....
Curiously all of this extravagant international funding on "cultural heritage preservation and promotion, and tourism development" appears to have by - passed Gaza.
Ecumencial News International must have reacted to the same briefings from the Government and reported on 22nd December that that Bethlehem, had celebrated its one millionth visitor of the year in November and expected at least 100 000 more visitors by the end of 2008 - and the Pope to visit in May 2009.
Chairman of Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce did explain to journalists that the 100 tour buses that arrive daily allow their visitors only a 2 hour visit - due to delays and problems as buses have to negotiate an Israeli-manned checkpoint, or to walk through a labyrinth-like checkpoint.
With 23% unemployment Bethlehem faces a brain drain, as many of the educated population emigrate because of the lack of job opportunities.
There are great hopes however of an agreement for a French light industrial zone and a training centre which has been attracted by insurance from the IFC [International Finance Corporation] of the World Bank on their investment.
However all is not going too smoothly for this project as the land for the industrial zone has not yet been identified due to difficulties created by the “Israeli occupation”. Apparently President Sarkozy was due to arrive on June 22nd to lay the cornerstone but as district head Al-Ta'mari ahs pointed out Zone A is unavailable "due to the siege that has reached the borders of the city and of which nothing remains ". As for Zone B the Israelis are preventing any Palestinian effort on it, and the Israelis forbid construction in the C areas totally under Israeli control.
The American Jewish Committee’s Paris representative, Valerie Hoffenberg, visited Bethlehem on June 12, 2008 acting as President Sarkozy's "envoy" in advance of his visit try to sort this out, without success. (See Footnote)
See the other orchestrated reports in the Kuwaiti Arab Times the China Post and of course the good old BBC,"Tourist revival boosts Bethlehem "
FOOTNOTE : ...or what Tony missed out about the wonders of economic boom in the West Bank.
The American Jewish Committee "A century of Leadership", operates Project Interchange where they ,"provid(e) educational seminars in Israel for America’s political, civic, ethnic and religious leaders" On December 19th 2008 , happily coinciding with the PR brouha outlined above Valerie Hoffenberg, director of AJC France led a delegation of French Muslim civic leaders including a police commissioner, the president of the French Young Entrepreneurs group, and the general director of a French television and radio station.
David A.Harris, Executive Director, American Jewish Committee (AJC) was lucky enough for the Jerusalem Post to publish his modestly one sided article "Why Israel had no choice ", on December 3oth.
The group met privately with Israeli President Shimon Peres. The trip included visits to Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, and the obligatory visit to Yad Vashem. The delegation also visited Ramallah and Bethlehem, and met with Palestinian Authority officials, including President Mahmoud Abbas - Gaza with it's teeming crowds of Muslims was somehow missed off this tour itinerary.
Jean-David Levitte , President Nicolas Sarkozy's Jewish diplomatic adviser on Middle East and North African affairs , who was French Ambassador to Washington until 2007 also joined the party. Levitte is also the new head of Sarkozy's new US style National Security Council (text June 2008) and there are fears (Figaro) that he might eclipse fellow Jew Bernard Kouchner the current Minister for Foreign Affairs .
Kouchner and Levitte broke ranks with the French government in 2003, refusing to oppose the invasion of Iraq. Kouchner published an article in Le Monde arguing the positives in toppling Saddam Hussein. Kouchner was described by neo con Richard "bomb 'em from 20,000 feet" Holbrooke as ‘an effective early advocate of “humanitarian intervention”’.
Sylvain Semhoun, the representative of Sarkozy’s Union for Popular Movement (UMP), told the Jerusalem Post, “Israel got lucky [with Kouchner]. Israelis should thank God it’s him and not Vedrine“
It cannot be forgottten either that Likud chairman, and likely next Israeli prime Minister, Binyamin 'Bibi' Netanyahu has said that with the coming to power of his friend Sarkozy, he expects French Middle East policy “will no longer be characterized by reflective anti-Israelism.”