The cabinet approved on Sunday a $2.8 million project to construct a second Israel National Trail hiking path that will run through the West Bank.
While the plan authorized by the government refers to the new course simply as one that will go “throughout the length and breadth of Israel,” a spokesman for Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who introduced the plan, confirmed that the intention is for the new path to run beyond the Green Line.
This new hiking path would be in addition to the original Israel National Trail, which did not venture into the West Bank.
“The path will expose tourists to Israel’s landscapes and sites and will bring hikers to all parts of the country, including the periphery, thereby making significant economic contributions to these areas,” said Levin in a separate statement that did not relate to the specific route of the path.
But in his own statement welcoming the initiative, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alluded to the route’s intended course, saying “there is nothing that connects one more to love of the homeland than walking through the verses of the Bible.”
Settler organizations likewise praised the cabinet decision. “The time has come for the route of Israel National Trail to reflect the territory of the Land of Israel,” said Kfar Etzion Field School director Yaron Rosenthal, who lobbied for the project.
Rosenthal said he expected the new trail to run through East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights in addition to various settlements throughout the West Bank, all areas Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War.
Alon Lifshitz-Cohen from the Bimkom planning rights NGO downplayed Sunday’s authorization. “According to the government’s decision, it does not talk at all about the West Bank, but only about areas within the State of Israel,” he said, adding there already exists an extensive network of marked trails for hikers throughout the West Bank.
Settlers have long complained that the original Israel National Trail does not cross the Green Line, skirting the West Bank rather than transecting it.
National Geographic magazine five years ago named the route one of the World’s Best Hikes. The trail, which extends up to 620 miles from southern to northern Israel, was named one of the 20 top hikes in the Epic Trails section.