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Israel approves hiking trail through occupied West Bank, Golan Open in fullscreen

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Israel approves hiking trail through occupied West Bank, Golan

Israel occupied the West Bank in a move never recognised by the international community [AFP]

Date of publication: 27 November, 2017

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Israel has approved a hiking trail through the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights - areas it seized in moves that have never been recognised by the international community.

The Israeli government on Sunday agreed to fund the creation of a hiking trail that goes through the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu welcomed the decision, which he hailed as "imperative in terms of tourism potential".

Israel occupied the West Bank and seized 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) of the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967, in moves that have never been recognised by the international community.

"The new route will pass through the Old City of Jerusalem or Shilo (north of the West Bank), places full of Jewish history," said Levin.

Following the cabinet's funding approval, a committee made up of various ministries must now submit proposals for the project whose budget is 10 million shekels ($2.8 million).

The existing hiking route known as the "Israel Trail", which was inaugurated in 1995, was ranked by National Geographic magazine as one of the world's top 20 hikes in 2012.

Occupied Palestinian Territories
[click to enlarge]


Authorities in Israel have been trying for years to attract foreign tourists to the West Bank by developing historical or religious pilgrimage sites, such as the Cave of Patriarchs in the Old City of Hebron.

Yet the benefits to Israel via Palestine-bound tourists has led many to reject and boycott visits to the occupied territory. 

Most Arab governments prohibit their citizens from visiting Palestine, considering dealing with Israel and recognising its authority as "normalisation" of the illegal occupation.

Some also believe the promotion of Israel as a cultural travel hub distracts from the Palestinian conflict, in which Israel enforces an oppressive and deadly siege, with checkpoints and demolitions, fuelling economic struggle and growing indignities.

More than 600,000 Israeli Jews also now live in settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, making a contiguous Palestinian state virtually impossible.

Settlement building in the occupied West Bank and annexed East Jerusalem is considered illegal under international law.

During the Obama administration, Netanyahu paid lip service to the idea of a two-state solution, but since Trump's election he has avoided talk of Palestinian independence or territorial withdrawals.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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