Newsletter : 6fax0827.txt
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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan
Aug. 27, 1996 V4, #158
All the News the Big Guys Missed
An Eilat-Aqaba-Taba Mega Resort?
By Al Pessin (VOA-Eilat)
Nearly two years after Israel and Jordan signed their peace
agreement, economic relations are still limited. There has been
some trade, and this month, the first shipload of goods bound for
Jordan was unloaded at the northern Israeli port of Haifa. Many
people on both sides believe the greatest potential for
Jordan-Israel cooperation lies several hundred kilometers to the
south, where narrow strips of the two countries come together at
the tip of the Gulf of Aqaba.
From almost anywhere in Eilat, the whitewashed buildings of Aqaba
are easily visible, just 4.3 miles away along the beach. But for
decades it was, as the old saying goes, not possible to get from
here to there.
Yosi Shvekah grew up in Eilat, and recently, as vice chairman of
the city's chamber of commerce, he was part of one of the first
delegations of local executives to make that short and previously
"We grew up here in Eilat, so, you know, we were sitting on the
beach, as kids, and we were always looking to the other side and we
dreamed about, they come, that we can go over and see Aqaba, how
the people live there. And you know, all the stories of people
taking a bottle and putting a note inside and closing it and
throwing it to the sea and maybe it's going to the other side?
This is what the Eilati kids were doing all the time. And the
first time that I passed the border, it was absolutely emotional
and exciting for me and for all the friends that were with me."
Once the trip from Eilat to Aqaba was impossible. Now it involves
visas, border fees, and time-consuming procedures. Someday soon,
Shvekah and some of his colleagues hope, there will be a promenade
along the beach on which local residents and tourists can freely
stroll or bicycle back and forth.
Eilat and Aqaba, as well as the nearby Egyptian town of Taba, form
what tourism industry executives call a natural resort area. "The
region will be ready. The question is how stubborn are the people
that are trying to push the plan, because if they are not
stubborn enough, they are not going to do it."
This is Dov Sharf, the Eilat city official responsible for
regional cooperation. He says he is ready to be stubborn enough
to push the region's conflicting business interests together for
their own good.
"There is a difference of culture, different way of doing business.
We have to come half of the way and they have to come half of the
way in order to learn how to deal with each other. It would be so
obvious, so natural to have cooperation based on economics in this
region because all three towns, Aqaba, Eilat and Taba, each city is
a resort area in its own country, and by combining the structure,
services, economics for all three countries, it would give them
benefit by size."
But local business executives are not so sure. Some in Eilat
worry that they would lose business to Aqaba, with its nicer
beaches and less-expensive hotels. Dov Sharf has this response.
"For a short time, yes. And I think that we should accept it if we
really want to have peace in the region. You have to sacrifice
something. And for the benefit of our children, for the sake of the
future, we should give some of our assets to give up."
The southern border crossing, which could be a key point in
developing Israel-Jordan trade, is just a few kilometers from
Eilat and Aqaba, on the very spot in the desert where the
Israel-Jordan peace treaty was signed in October 1994, and not far
from where some people on both sides hope to build a joint airport.
But so far, concerns from executives and workers on both sides
have combined with bureaucratic delays and lingering animosities
to limit Israel-Jordan economic ties during the past two years.
Those involved in the fledgling process acknowledge things might
take longer than they anticipated. They still believe that ideas
of thriving trade, a free-access tourist area, the joint airport,
and other Israel-Jordan cooperation plans have more chance of
success than those ill-fated messages in bottles Eilat children
used to set adrift on the sea.
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