International guests in Israel on official visits will be taken to the Kotel as part of their itinerary, Yediot Ahronot reported Thursday.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely has instructed the Ministry's ceremony and visitor department to present the Kotel as part of the official tour international figures, including official guests, diplomats, and heads of state, are given when they come to Israel.
Currently, visitors are taken to Yad Vashem, the Knesset, and Herzl's Tomb on Mount Herzl as part of their tours.
While the idea has surfaced before, this is the first time that the Kotel will be placed on visitors' itinerary as part of their official visit – making refusal to undertake the visit a severe breach of international diplomatic protocol.
Visitors will be accompanied by an official representative of the Foreign Ministry, who will explain the Kotel's importance and history to visitors.
With that, the idea is not as radical as it sounds, the Ministry said. At least half of the foreign dignitaries who come to Israel already visit the Kotel, usually in an unofficial capacity. Several have refused, citing as their reason the political difficulty of visiting a “disputed” site.
Hotovely was quoted in the report as saying that there was no reason not to include the Kotel in official visits, as it was “at the heart of the political consensus in Israel. I see this new innovation as a symbol of our intentions to continue strengthening our position in Jerusalem."
"Adding the Kotel will help redirect our conversation with foreign diplomats who are usually taken to Yad Vashem, where they see our recent, tragic past, to a positive focus that takes into account 3,000 years of Zionism instead of just 100 years, and enhances the dialogue about Jerusalem.”
Hotovely realizes that some diplomats will refuse the Ministry's offer. “For them, we will try to argue and convince. But just instituting this as a part of the itinerary is a major change,” regardless of whether a diplomat agrees to go or not.
The new rule will have its first test next week, when Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi arrives in Israel for an official visit. Hotovely herself will be at the airport to greet him and to accompany him on his official itinerary, the Ministry said.