New Israeli government pledges to develop tourism in the West Bank
The tourism minister in Israel’s new radical government vowed on Sunday to invest in West Bank development, calling the occupied area “our local Tuscany”.
Haim Katz made the comments days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government took office, promising in his coalition directives to make settlement building in the West Bank a top priority. His coalition includes far-right settler leaders in the highest positions.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East War and built dozens of settlements that now house around 500,000 Israelis.
The Palestinians claim the whole area as part of a future independent state and consider the settlements illegal – a position widely shared by the international community. Israel’s commitment to deepen its control of the West Bank has threatened to put it on a collision course with some of its closest allies.
At a ceremony Sunday, Katz said he would channel resources to promote tourism in the West Bank. “We will invest in areas that may not have received enough support to date,” he said. “For example, our local Tuscany in Judea and Samaria,” he added, using the biblical term for the West Bank preferred by religious and right-wing Israelis.
The West Bank settler community has developed a small tourism sector that includes hotels, bed and breakfasts and wineries. Israel sees these industries as part of the country’s broader tourism sector, while international human rights groups have said they are deepening control of the occupied territory.
Airbnb said in 2018 that it would ban listings in Israeli settlements, but quickly backed down under heavy Israeli pressure. Last year, Booking.com said it was adding disclaimers to its listings.
On Friday, the UN General Assembly asked the UN’s highest judicial body to give its opinion on the legality of Israeli policies in the occupied West Bank.
Netanyahu called the resolution “shameful” and said Israel was under no obligation to cooperate with the International Court of Justice.
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