Will Israelis be allowed in Bethlehem for the first time since 2000? In light of the relative calm and successful coordination between Israel and the Palestinian security forces, it seems 50 Israeli tour guides will soon be permitted to enter Bethlehem again, a senior IDF officer said on Tuesday.
The official added that the plan will likely be implemented in the near future, in accordance with security considerations. "We will do it cautiously and responsibly. The situation in which Israeli tour guides arrive with groups of tourists to Bethlehem and then switch with a Palestinian tour guide may change."
He said the Palestinian side also has an interest in allowing Israeli tour guides into the city, as this would increase the number of Israeli tourists in the future.
In addition, a change of policy regarding Jericho is also being examined by the defense establishment.
"Obviously, we will not allow such a situation if we learn there are elements that wish to disrupt and cause harm. We will stop it at once," the officer stressed.
"Today, the Palestinian security forces, under the current leadership, have proven they have the ability to carry out missions that ultimately meet their interests as well," he said.
If the plan is executed, it will allow for the controlled entrance of Israelis with permits to Bethlehem, which is in Area A under the Palestinian Authority's control, for the first time since the year 2000.
At present, the city is considered calm on the security front, and the second intifada severely harmed its economy, which was based on tourism and pilgrims.
In 2002, some 200 Palestinian gunmen barricaded themselves in the Church of the Nativity. The IDF operated in the city to have the gunmen detained, and some of them were expelled from the city.