Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet gathered in a village in Golan Heights to inaugurate a new settlement named after President Donald Trump in a gesture of appreciation for the US leader’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the territory.
The settlement isn’t exactly new. Currently known as Bruchim, it is over 30 years old and has a population of 10 people. Israel is hoping the rebranded “Ramat Trump,” Hebrew for “Trump Heights,” will encourage a wave of residents to vastly expand it.
“It’s absolutely beautiful,” said US Ambassador David Friedman, who attended Sunday’s ceremony. Noting that Trump celebrated his birthday on Friday, he said: “I can’t think of a more appropriate and a more beautiful birthday present.” Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it in 1981. Most of the international community considers the move illegal under international law.
But during a visit to Washington by Netanyahu in March, just weeks before Israeli elections, Trump signed an executive order recognising the strategic mountainous plateau as Israeli territory. The decision, the latest in a series of diplomatic moves benefiting Israel, was widely applauded in Israel.
“Few things are more important to the security of the state of Israel than permanent sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” Friedman said. “It is simply obvious, it is indisputable and beyond any reasonable debate.” After the cabinet decision, Netanyahu and Friedman unveiled a sign trimmed in gold with the name “Trump Heights” and adorned with US and Israeli flags.
Addressing the ceremony, Netanyahu called Trump a “great friend” of Israel and described the Golan, which overlooks northern Israel, as an important strategic asset.
“The Golan Heights was and will always be an inseparable part of our country and homeland,” he said.
Developing Ramat Trump will not be easy. Ringed by high yellow grass and landmines, it is roughly 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the Syrian border and a half hour drive from the nearest Israeli town, Kiryat Shmona, a community of about 20,000 people near the Lebanese border.
According to Israeli figures, almost 50,000 people live in the Golan, including about 22,000 Jewish Israelis and nearly 25,000 Arab Druze residents.
While Israel has encouraged and promoted settlement in the Golan, its remote location, several hours from the economic centre of Tel Aviv, has been an obstacle. The area is home to small agriculture and tourism sectors but otherwise has little industry. The eight-year Syrian civil war, which at times has resulted in spillover fire into the Golan, also could present an obstacle to luring new residents.