New tourism minister Haim Katz vows to invest in West Bank, ‘Israel’s Tuscany’

Newly-sworn Tourism Minister Haim Katz on Sunday pledged to increase investments in parts of the country he said were underserved, including the West Bank, the site of ongoing waves of terror, which he compared with the picturesque Italian region of Tuscany.

“We will invest in areas that may not have received much attention until now, including our local Tuscany in Judea and Samaria,” he said, using the biblical name of the territory, during a handover ceremony with his predecessor , Yesh Atid MK Yoel Razvozov.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swore in his hard-right government on Thursday. On Sunday, many outgoing ministers held handover ceremonies with their successors.

Netanyahu’s government is expected to strengthen Israel’s control of the West Bank, with coalition agreements that include a vague promise to annex the territory to Israel, a promise to legalize the many unauthorized settlements, and provide large funds for road construction. and public transport in the West Bank.

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About half a million Israelis live in the West Bank, where the Palestinians want to establish their own independent state. Some human rights groups have called on tourism companies to boycott the territory.

Due to an increase in violence in the region, online travel agency Booking.com added warnings to listings to West Bank locations in October. The alert advises customers looking for rentals to review their government’s travel advisories before booking in the area, which “may be considered a conflict of interest.”

Illustrations: An aerial view shows Evangelical Christian volunteers harvesting Merlot grapes on September 23, 2020, for the Israeli family-run Tura Winery, in the estate’s vineyard located at the West Bank settlement of Har Bracha. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

In 2019, another online accommodation giant Airbnb ended its plan to remove listings in the settlements after lawsuits were filed against it in the United States and Israel.

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On Sunday, Katz also emphasized the importance of the Ministry of Tourism’s role in improving the economy and promoting Israel as a travel destination.

“The goal is to reach new heights, every budget concession will be implemented. We will not be returning any money to the Treasury,” he said.

“We will work to improve the infrastructure and expand the supply of accommodation options. Every Israeli family should enjoy the beauty of Israel and be able to find a place to host them, according to their personal financial capabilities.”

Razvozov wished his successor good luck, and said he was giving “a functional ministry, which can achieve a lot for the State of Israel, the Israeli economy and the citizens of Israel.”

Israel welcomed over 2 million tourists to the country in 2022, according to the latest data from the Ministry of Tourism,

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These figures are a far cry from pre-COVID pandemic figures, when Israel welcomed around 4.5 million tourists in 2019, its strongest year ever.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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