Christmas Returns to Bethlehem As Peace Talks Replace Intifada

Unlike in previous years when the intifada was at its peak, Bethlehem is having a prosperous Christmas season this year.

The situation is “very relaxed,” the Israel Defense Force’s district commander reported Monday. Tourism is picking up. A hundred buses arrive each day and all of the hotels and restaurants are open.

The return to normal after the tension of the past four years is attributable to the current peace process involving Israel in talks with the Palestinians and neighboring Arab states.

Palestinian dissidents opposed to the process were warned off by Bethlehem Mayor Elias Freij, a participant in the peace talks. He urged residents to ignore leaflets circulated in town calling for a general strike during the holiday.

The strike call was contrary to instructions issued by the intifada unified command to keep shops and restaurants open for the holiday, Freij said.

He said the Palestinian leadership, inside and outside of the Palestine Liberation Organization, “supports the opening of Bethlehem and neighboring Beit Sahur.”

Freij warned Moslem fundamentalists and radicals not to try to interfere with the way Bethlehem celebrates Christmas, “because when there are other holidays, we do not interfere in their affairs.”

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