Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tourism minister: I'll back development of West Bank tourist sites

Despite cabinet's decision on construction moratorium, Yisrael Beitenu member says he'll encourage development of tourist sites in Ariel, near Ma'aleh Adumim. Likud MK: Palestinians' reaction to moratorium 'proves they're obstacle to peace'

Roni Sofer

"I'll continue to encourage the development of tourist sites in the West Bank, such as the Herodion, Qasr el-Yahud near Ma'aleh Adumim and tourist sites in Ariel," Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov said Saturday, just days after cabinet voted to temporarily halt construction in the disputed region.

Speaking at a cultural forum in Holon, Misezhnikov explained that his Yisrael Beitenu party supports the 10-month construction moratorium. "For us it was critical that Jerusalem was not included and that the decision calls for the continued construction of public institutions (in the West Bank)," said the minister.

"We realize that the decision boost's Israel's status within the international community, especially among those countries which backed Israel during the UN vote on the Goldstone Report," he said.

Knesset Member Daniel Ben Simon told the forum in Holon that Labor must support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to temporarily halt construction in the West Bank.

"As long as the moratorium is enforced, Labor should support it," said the MK, adding that the party must "put its internal crisis on hold" and focus on promoting the diplomatic process.

During another event held in Ramat Gan on Saturday, Likud MK Ofir Akonis spoke of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' refusal to return to the negotiation table despite the West Bank construction freeze.

"The entire world is now seeing how even after Israel makes difficult and painful decisions, the Palestinians still demand more and refuse (to negotiate)," he said, adding that Abbas' claim that the construction moratorium is insufficient "proves that the Palestinians are an obstacle to peace."

Minister Misezhnikov also addressed the issue of captive soldier Gilad Shalit, saying he would support a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas, if and when the cabinet votes on it.

"Gilad should have been rescued during the first week of Operation Cast Lead. But we have an obligation to the thousands of teenagers who are recruited to the IDF each year – they must know that the State will not abandon them," he said.

Attila Somfalvi and Amnon Meranda contributed to the report

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