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31 Aug, 2007 04:54

Israel and Russia are moving closer together

An Israeli government commission has proposed the cancellation of visa requirements for Russian and former Soviet Union citizens visiting the countyr. It is now up to Russia to duplicate the move.

Prostitution, criminal warlords, KGB spies and dirty money – these are the images leftover from the old times. Even today the Western world is not ready to open its doors to the former Soviet Union.

But in Israel politicians have been watching the changes closely and are ready to make a move.

The Israeli Internal Security Ministry voted unanimously to cancel the law requiring visas for visitors from the former Soviet Union and Russia.

“It proves we have a good relationship. It shows our hope for co-operation in the sphere of tourism  and we really expect to improve our political relationship,” said Avigdor Lieberman, the head of the Russian-Israeli political party.

“A visa for an adult for one year costs $US 1000. For children we do not know yet, So you see, for a family it costs almost $US 3000 a year. We have to spend this because my husband works in St. Petersburg and we are now living in two countries, so it's the only way we can be together,”  said Victoria Shapiro, a Russian immigrant to Israel.

For Berta Gabdulina the reasons are more emotional than practical. Her uncle died and left her the family home.

“It’s my house, maybe I will finish working here and when I’m a pensioner I would like to return back home. But now I want to visit my house twice a year, to live there at least one month, so for me it would be a huge thing if Russia  drops the visa requirements and I can come home whenever I want,”  said Berta Gabdulina, a Russian immigrant to Israel.

But the visa industry is business and a new business plan needs to be drawn up to complete the process.

Despite humanitarian concerns and fears that criminal elements will enter the country,  what the Israeli government is most focused on is that, by the next holiday season, the hotels will be full.

Israel predicts some 300,000 more Russian tourists will come and create another 10,000 jobs in the Israeli economy: but what is not clear is how many Israelis will be making the same journey in the opposite direction. The ball is now in the Russian court.

If the agreement is signed, Israel will be a litmus test for the rest of the western world as to whether or not to follow suit.