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Quartet Representative Tony Blair visits Nazareth and Jenin, travelling along the Nativity Route

Quartet Representative Tony Blair visits Nazareth and Jenin, travelling along the Nativity Route

Quartet Representative Tony Blair today toured both Nazareth and Jenin, in a visit highlighting the religious, cultural and historic appeal of Israel and Palestine. Joined by Israeli, Palestinian and foreign tourism entrepreneurs, the Quartet Representative explored the significant social and economic potential of tourism to the Holy Land, and discussed ways to further improve prospects for the tourism sector.

Leaving Jenin towards Jerusalem at the end of the visit, Mr. Blair said: “Today, I made a fascinating journey in several respects: this area, with routes travelled for over two millenia, has amazing appeal to pilgrims and other visitors. But it has also changed since I first visited in 2007: security and rule of law were restored by President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad’s state-building programme; Jenin’s private sector started investing again, and thanks to Israel’s opening of the Jalameh Crossing there are great prospects for both domestic and foreign tourism to Jenin. Although it is often portrayed otherwise, many Israelis and Palestinians are working together to give visitors to the Holy Land a wonderful experience. ”

Following the first part of the traditional pilgrim’s journey –the so-called Nativity Route– between Nazareth and Bethlehem, Mr. Blair started the day in a meeting with Nazareth Mayor Ramiz Jaraisy, touring the Old City and walking the first section of the Jesus Trail, a 65km hiking path which passes through Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities and connects religious and historic sites across the Galilee. In the Old City, he visited the Fauzi Azar Inn guesthouse before passing by Nazareth’s White Mosque and making a tour in the Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation, both examples of Nazareth’s rich heritage.

Mr. Blair then travelled to Jenin via the Jalameh Crossing, where he met the Israeli Crossing Points Authority to receive an update on operations since it was officially opened by Mr. Blair and Israeli and Palestinian officials in November 2009, and discuss further plans for the future. The opening was an immediate success, with early survey figures estimating the annual impact to be around $ 40 million in additional turnover for Jenin businesses. In November 2009 when the crossing opened the number of cars passing on a Saturday was 1,730. By May 2011 the number had risen to 4,664, an increase of 270%. While the most positive economic impact of the crossing stems from Arab-Israelis visiting Jenin, the crossing is also now accessible to foreign tourists travelling along the Nativity Route.

In Jenin, Mr. Blair was met by Governor Qadura Mousa and discussed economic prospects with businessmen from Nazareth and Jenin. The meeting took place at the Haddad Resort in Jenin, a tourism venue which has recently expanded its hotel and entertainment park facilities. Mr. Blair then visited the Greek-Orthodox Church of St. George in the village of Burqin just west of Jenin city. The small Byzantine era church is one of the key pilgrimage sites located on the Nativity Route between Nazareth and Bethlehem.

2010 was a record year for both the Israeli and Palestinian tourism sectors, with 3.4 million visitors overall. By comparison, however, the Vatican City alone receives approximately 4 million visitors per year.  In the coming months the Quartet Representative and his team in Jerusalem will continue to seek a continued revival of the Nativity Route and explore ways in which the tourism potential of Israel and Palestine can be fully tapped.