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

Likud politician says he aims to expand accommodation options to enable all Israelis to afford a vacation; outgoing minister Razvozov says he leaves behind ‘functioning ministry’

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Evangelical Christian volunteers harvest Merlot wine grapes on September 23, 2020, for the Israeli family-run Tura Winery, in the estate's vineyards located at the West Bank settlement of Har Bracha. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)
Illustrative. Evangelical Christian volunteers harvest Merlot wine grapes on September 23, 2020, for the Israeli family-run Tura Winery, in the estate's vineyards located at the West Bank settlement of Har Bracha. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

Newly sworn-in Tourism Minister Haim Katz vowed Sunday to increase investments in parts of the country that he said are underserved, including the West Bank, the site of an ongoing terror wave, which he likened to the picturesque Italian region of Tuscany.

“We will invest in areas that perhaps did not receive enough attention thus far, 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 hardline right-wing government on Thursday. On Sunday, many outgoing ministers were holding handover ceremonies with their successors.

Netanyahu’s government is expected to entrench Israel’s control over the West Bank, with coalition agreements including a vague commitment to annex the territory to Israel, a pledge to legalize dozens of unauthorized settlements, and the provision of large funds for road building and public transport in the West Bank.

Approximately half a million Israelis live in the West Bank, where the Palestinians seek to establish their own independent state. Some human rights groups have called on tourist firms to boycott the territory.

Due to a surge in violence in the region, online travel agency Booking.com added warnings to listings to West Bank locations in October. The alert urges customers searching for rentals to review their government’s travel advisories before booking in the area, “which may be considered conflict-affected.”

Tourism Minister Haim Katz (left) shakes hands with his predecessor MK Yoel Razvozov, at a handover ceremony in Jerusalem, January 1, 2023. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

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

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

“The goal is to reach new heights, all budget allowances will be implemented. We won’t be returning any funds to the Treasury,” he said.

“We will work to improve 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 be hosted, according to their personal financial ability.”

Razvozov wished his successor good luck, and said he was handing over “a functioning 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 Tourism Ministry,

These figures are a far cry from pre-pandemic times, when Israel welcomed some 4.5 million tourists in 2019, its strongest year on record.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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