Israel’s battered tourism industry got some good news on Sunday when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced during the weekly cabinet meeting that visa-free travel between the Jewish State and it’s newest ally, the United Arab Emirates, was ratified unanimously.
The ratification was the final hurdle the treaty needed to surmount in order to become official policy. The UAE government had previously done so on Nov. 1.
“This is the first Arab country with which we have signed such an agreement and this is a step that will facilitate reciprocal tourism,” Netanyahu said before the vote was taken. “Of course, this will develop and strengthen ties between the countries as well as economic links. I believe that every citizen of Israel, the entire world, sees the great change that we are bringing to our region in every field.”
Netanyahu also mentioned some positive diplomatic developments related to the recently normalization agreement with Sudan.
“These are signs of what is to come, and not only in these fields. I hope that we will always have more and more good news,” he said.
This is the latest development in the rapidly improving relationship between Israel and its Arab neighbors following a visit last week by Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani and a delegation of government officials and business leaders from the tiny Gulf emirate.
That visit featured the signing of several agreements between the two countries, including one which mandates the establishment of a mechanism that allows citizens of Israel and Bahrain to apply online for a visa to visit each other’s countries. Bahrain is awaiting Israeli tourists by preparing its country's facilities to accommodate kosher travelers.
This does not mean Israel's borders are open. Foreigners have been barred from entering the country since March and there has been no talk of reopening them.
Nevertheless, the news was welcomed by Israelis, especially those who work in the airports, restaurants, tour guide agencies and others whose income is highly dependent on visitors from abroad. The tourism industry in Israel, which directly employs over 100,000 people and indirectly supports hundreds of thousands of other jobs, has been hit hard in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant effects on travel.
Although some restrictions on travel have been lifted and rapid COVID-19 testing facilities have been installed at Israel’s major airports, experts cautioned that it would likely be some time before the number of visitors approaches the levels that were seen prior to the pandemic.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.