Israel, Egypt and Turkey have formed an alliance to promote tourism throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and invited other nations that have recently been at war or remain divided to join the alliance.
Looser border controls and the economic benefits of more tourism could hasten a lasting peace in the volatile region, tourism ministers from the three nations said as they signed documents last week forming the Eastern Mediterranean Tourism Association."In order to help the peace process, we believe the tourism sector can do a lot," said Abdulkadir Ates, Turkey's minister of tourism.
Mr. Ates went on to say he would like to see the formation of a Palestinian state that could join the tourism association EMTA, to be based in Cairo - and Israeli Tourism Minister Uzi Baram did not flinch.
Mr. Baram said he would like to see Jordan join the group even before it signs a peace treaty with Israel.
Egypt's Tourism Minister Mamdouh El Beltagui said the partnership should include "Cypriots, Greeks, Jordanians, Lebanese, Palestinians, Syrians." Other potential candidates would include war-torn Bosnia, and Libya, which has become an international pariah over its refusal to turn over suspects in the terrorist bombing of a Pan Am flight.
The tourism ministers maintained optimism despite questions from reporters who wondered how realistic it would be to see the alliance include such places as the divided island of Cyprus, or Lebanon, which as recently as this summer suffered heavy casualties in bombing raids by the Israeli air force.
The ministers also were asked about security following the murders this year of foreign tourists in Egypt by Islamic fundamentalists, which severely damaged Egypt's tourism industry.
"Let me tell you clearly, we have no problem with security as a matter of fact in Egypt," Mr. El Beltagui said. "This so-called fundamentalism is history."