MOSHE KATSAV, ISRAEL'S DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER AND MINISTRY OF TOURISM:
"THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A PALESTINIAN STATE IS MY NIGHTMARE"
PLANNING ISRAEL'S COMING 50 YEARS ANNIVERSARY
By: Gad Nahshon
"I hope to find out that we will not have to face a Palestinian State. It is the hope of our government. I have no doubt that a Palestinian State will endanger the existence of Israel," Mr. Moshe Katsav, Israel's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism told me at his office in Jerusalem.
Katsav, who immigrated from Iran with his family, a man for all the seasons, is a unique self- made Israeli politician. He is a smart, balanced and police person. He is also very popular because of his unique style of behavior. It was not a surprise to find that Katsav, whose home town is Kiriat-Malachi (Los Angeles, in Hebrew) has been a rising star in his own party during the Likud's primaries. And for many years he has served as the chairman of this party in the Knesset. Katsav also served as Israel's Minister of Labor and Israel's Minister of Transportation.
Katsav, the popular politician in the Knesset, wears many hats. He is the chairman of his cabinet's Committee of Symbols and Ceremonies. Therefore, he will be in charge of planning and applying Israel's upcoming 50th anniversary celebrations and events. In May, 1998, Israel, which was established on May 14, 1948, will celebrate its historical Zionist turning point.
As to Israel's policy toward the Palestinians, Katsav argued that we must immediately find a permanent solution. He is afraid that in the future Israel would not have any cards or assets to be traded on the negotiation table.
As to tourism, Katsav agreed that the situation was bad because of the terrorist attacks on Israelis, but he also pointed out that tourism was bad in Europe, too. He told me that he is optimistic as to tourism in Israel in 1997. "In the coming years, I expect a flow of two million tourists to Israel. I think that only Israel can present the potential tourism with a rare combination of nature, sightseeing, archeology of many ancient cultures and people, entertainment, recreation and spas, such as the Dead Sea," said Katsav.
He is right - it is a rare combination and a potential attraction to many tourists. Just pass the ancient tunnel of Kotel (the Western Wall in Jerusalem) or just enjoy the pleasures of the Dead Sea. For example, over there at the lowest place in the world, you can tan yourself without any fear of damaging your health with the potential risk of skin cancer! This area is also a 'paradise' to those who suffer from high blood pressure.
Moshe Katsav is a doer and probably he will accomplish his tourist goals. He is also cooperating with Jordan and the Palestinians in order to promote tourism to the region. Katsav expressed disappointment as to the issue of tourism from North America. In 1996, only 500,000 American tourists visited Israel. "Only 250,000, or half, were American Jews. Sad to say, but 75% of American Jewry never even visited Israel," said Katsav. Recently he visited the U.S. in order to learn this omission. Speaking at the Conference of Presidents, Katsav called on the Jewish leaders to establish a special council in order to promote tourism. "Tourism to Israel is not only a contribution to the wellbeing of the Jewish State. It is also a means to develop Jewish identity. A visit in Israel is a process of building Jewishness as well. And the bottom line is: combating the process of assimilation among Jews in America," remarked Katsav, always a true gentleman.
Tourism from America is a huge challenge and Israel is still looking for the right marketing approach which would break the ice for good.
As to the 50th anniversary of Israel, Katsav told me that he established a steering committee which is basically a committee of the major chief executives of the cabinet's various ministries. The chairman of this committee is Shabtai Shy, chief executive of the Ministry of Tourism. Katsav plans to establish a special agency which would manage and coordinate the coming events and ceremonies. According to the plan, each ministry will prepare its own events. For example, the Defense Ministry will be in charge of two major I.D.F. (Israeli Defense Force) parades in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Katsav and his office are planning a variety of parades, festivals, carnivals, economic conferences and cultural events, such as a Judaica exhibition (with Sotherby's). He plans to bring to Israel the heads and presidents of the 500 leading companies in the world (Fortune 500), as well as to host the General Assembly of North Americas 117 Jewish Federations. Israel is planning on a pilgrimage of millions to the country in 1998.
Tourists, young Jews, presidents, as well as those volunteers who fought in 1948 in Israel's War for Independence. Katsav also plans many events to be programmed in the Diaspora, such as a huge celebration in New York's Central Park.
Certainly, this period will be a statement to the world that Israel is the Jewish eternal state and a period of demonstration of Jewish unity and solidarity. This 50th anniversary celebration should be used as a new dynamic leverage to strengthen Israel's prestige and its survival dimension, as well.
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