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Israeli settlement hotel plans 'threaten West Bank tourism'

May 1, 2012 9:25 P.M. (Updated: May 2, 2012 5:26 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli plans to build nine hotels in a settlement neighborhood in East Jerusalem aim to undermine tourism in Bethlehem, a Palestinian researcher warned Tuesday.

Israel on Tuesday pushed forward with plans to build 1,100 hotel rooms in Givat Hamatos, a neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem close to Israel's checkpoint to Bethlehem.

Khalil Tufakji, a Palestinian expert in settlement affairs, told Ma'an that an Israeli committee had approved the plan, which includes nine hotels.

The Israeli government is hoping tourists will stay in the hotels and make day trips to Bethlehem rather than stay in the West Bank city, Tufakji said.

He said Israel was also creating employment opportunities to encourage Jewish settlers to move to East Jerusalem as part of a wider push to alter the city's demographic reality and drive Palestinians from the occupied city.

Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of their promised state but Israel insists the whole city is its "eternal, indivisible" capital.

Tufakji also linked the hotels to upcoming Israeli elections.

"(Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu is trying to gain support as Israeli elections are nearing. He has repeated several times that construction in Jerusalem is similar to construction in Tel Aviv."

Israel unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, a move never recognized by the international community.

Over 500,000 Israeli settlers live in Jewish-only communities on Palestinian land. Last week the Israeli government sanctioned three Jewish outposts, a move rights groups said created the first new settlements since 1990.

Palestinian leaders say settlements and their related infrastructure and roads networks prevent the viability of a Palestinian state.
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