Welcome to Trump Heights, Population: Israelis (with VIDEO)
The Netanyahu government establishes a new community in the Golan in gratitude to the U.S. president
It might not be in the flesh, but U.S. President Donald Trump will forever have a presence in Israel.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his entire cabinet approved the establishment of a new town – Trump Heights – to commemorate the U.S. leader’s decision in March to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the parts of the Golan Heights captured by the Jewish state during the 1967 war.
The future community, located near the village of Kela Alon, is expected to be the site of 110 homes.
“The Golan Heights will always be a part of Israel, and today we are celebrating another milestone for generations to come,” Netanyahu asserted in front of a packed audience in a setting overlooking the territory’s strategic hills. “This place is named after a great friend of Israel and of mine, the president of the United States, Donald Trump.”
Also on hand was U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Freidman, who called the tribute “much deserved and much appreciated” while speaking at the site.
“I think President Trump will be honored to be in that small category of [American] heroes [in Israeli history], which includes Harry Truman,” the envoy said, in reference to the U.S. president who in 1948 recognized Israel’s legitimacy only minutes after David Ben-Gurion announced the creation of the nation.
“It is a very important day, as we are going to create a new Jewish settlement in the Golan Heights,” Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told The Media Line on the sidelines of the event. “I think Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights is crystal clear and that this should [always] be the case.”
Israeli Economy Minister Eli Cohen said Jerusalem intends to retain the Golan Heights in perpetuity and that relations between Israel and the U.S. “are at an all-time high,” a theme reiterated throughout the day.
“This event emphasizes the good connection between the U.S. and Israel, and [naming this community in his honor] is a small thing we can do for a good and close friend of our state,” Cohen said. “I’m sure that more countries will follow President Trump’s lead and recognize that the Golan will remain forever in Israeli hands.”
Some opposition members, however, criticized the move, calling it a “publicity stunt.”
Blue and White MK Zvi Hauser, whose party garnered an equal amount of seats as Netanyahu’s Likud in the April 9 elections, was reported by Israeli media as waxing rhetorically.
“What does a successful PR campaign look like? Exactly like this,” he was quoted as saying. “Anyone who reads the fine print in this ‘historic decision will understand that it is nothing more than a fake policy. There is no budgeting, no planning, no location for settlement, and there is not really a binding decision to implement the project.”
While pomp and ceremony ruled the day, the status of the Golan Heights – internationally speaking – remains disputed.
In 1981, Israel applied its domestic laws into all areas of the Golan that it conquered in 1967, including villages inhabited by Syrian Druze, an act that most of the world condemned, viewing it as de facto annexation. Accordingly, in the ensuing years, there were repeated pushes – led by successive U.S. presidents, most recently Barack Obama – to forge peace between Israel and Syria, which would have entailed returning the Golan to the Assad regime.
Given the mass slaughter perpetrated by Damascus since 2011, coupled with the near-complete destruction of the nation in civil war, most analysts now agree that giving back the territory would significantly harm Israel’s deterrence.
Foremost, they argue, Israel would be hard-pressed to prevent terrorists – who have roamed Syria freely for the better part of the past decade – from targeting its northern population centers without the existence of the buffer zone the Golan provides. Moreover, there have been many instances – this month alone – of Syrian fire aimed toward the frontier, which more easily could have penetrated Israel’s missile defense systems had they had been launched from a closer distance.
Lastly, such a move is liable to whet the appetite of Lebanon-based Hizbullah – as well as Iran and others among its allied Shi’ite forces – to aggressively attempt to establish a military infrastructure along the shared border from where they can open up a new front against Israel in the event of a future war.
Most acutely – and practically – experts note that at present, there is simply no “return address” in the unlikely scenario that the Golan Heights is relinquished.
Some thus contend that President Trump’s Golan Heights declaration was merely a recognition of reality, a logic they also apply to the administration’s recognition in December 2017 of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and its subsequent relocation of the U.S. Embassy to the holy city.
However, both decisions were not without controversy, as regional countries, along with the greater Islamic world, have strongly repudiated the U.S. president. Notably, the United Nations Generally Assembly, less than a week after President Trump’s Jerusalem declaration, overwhelmingly passed a motion describing the initiative as “null and void.”
Perhaps most significant is the subsequent fall-out with the Palestinian Authority, whose leader, Mahmoud Abbas, imposed a blanket boycott on all American officials, a situation that threw a major wrench into the White House’s efforts to jump-start a peace process.
The PA has vowed to torpedo President Trump’s “deal of the century” and will not be sending a delegation to Bahrain next week for an economic “workshop” whose aim is to generate investment for development projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
To every action, there is a reaction. This is the rationale of those who deem President Trump’s approach to the conflict as reckless and overtly biased in favor of Israel. Therefore, while the cornerstone laid Sunday in the Golan Heights enhances Israel’s immediate strategic position, the lasting impact may only become evident long after the new town’s future residents move in.