New far-right Israeli government vows to 'develop' occupied West Bank tourism
The tourism minister of Israel's new hardline, far-right government on Sunday promised to invest in developing the West Bank - which has been under brutal occupation for decades - 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 its coalition guidelines to make West Bank settlement construction a top priority.
The Palestinian tourism industry, which accounts for 15% of the economy in the Occupied West Bank, has been crushed by COVID-19 restrictions and decades of deprivation.
The new extremist coalition in the Knesset includes far-right settler 'activists', notably Bezalel Smotrich, now finance minister - and Itamar Ben Gvir, who has secure the position of national security minister.
Israel invaded the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day war, and has occupied it ever since. Israel has also built dozens of settlements that are now home to roughly 500,000 Israeli settlers, which are deemed illegal by the international community.
Tourists wishing to visit the West Bank cannot travel directly, and often struggle to obtain visas.
Israeli settlers routinely subject Palestinians to intimidation, vandalism, violence and even murder.
Meanwhile, Palestinians insist that the West Bank is an indispensable territory should an independent Palestinian state be formed.
Israel's commitment to deepening 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 occupied West Bank. "We will invest in areas that may not have received sufficient support to date," he said.
"For example, our local Tuscany in Judea and Samaria," he added, using terms for the West Bank favoured by right-wing, extremist and far-right Israelis,
Illegal settlers in the West Bank have "developed" a small tourism sector that includes hotels, bed and breakfasts and wineries, at the expense of Palestinian land.
Rights groups have slammed the developments, who accuse Israel of deepening control of occupied territory, as Tel Aviv considers these industries to be part of the country's broader tourism sector.
Airbnb in 2018 said it would bar listings in the Israeli settlements, but it quickly backed down under heavy Israeli pressure. Last year, Booking.com said it was adding warnings to its listings there.
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, in a move that was welcomed by Palestinian officials.
Netanyahu called the resolution "disgraceful" and said Israel is not obligated to cooperate with the International Court of Justice.