JERUSALEM (AP) — The tourism minister of Israel’s new hardline government on Sunday promised to invest in developing the West Bank, 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. His coalition includes far-right settler leaders in top posts.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and has built dozens of settlements that are now home to roughly 500,000 Israelis.
The Palestinians claim the entire area as part of a future independent state and consider the settlements illegal — a position that is widely shared by the international community. 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 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 the biblical term for the West Bank favored 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 considers these industries to be part of the country’s broader tourism sector, while international human rights groups have said they deepen control of occupied territory.
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 U.N. General Assembly asked the U.N.’s highest judicial body to give its opinion on the legality of Israeli policies in the occupied West Bank.
Netanyahu called the resolution “disgraceful” and said Israel is not obligated to cooperate with the International Court of Justice.