Israel Launches ‘Trump Heights’ on Golan, but Construction May Lag

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman attend a ceremony to unveil a sign for a new community named after U.S. President Donald Trump, in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights June 16, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Israel approved in principle on Sunday a new community named after U.S. President Donald Trump on a contested frontier zone with Syria – but construction looked likely to lag given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political stumbles.

The “Trump Heights” project is intended to cement ties after Trump broke with other world powers to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the plateau in March.

At a special cabinet session in Beruchim, a sparse clutch of homes just 12 km (7.5 miles) from the Golan Heights armistice line with Syria, Netanyahu unveiled a sign labeled “Trump Heights” in English and Hebrew.

The sign was decorated with the Israeli and U.S. flags and planted on a patch of synthetic grass.

Israel captured the Golan from Syria in a 1967 war and later annexed and settled it – moves not accepted by most world powers, who deem it to be occupied Syrian territory.

Ongoing hostilities between Israel and Syria, and internal Syrian fighting that drew Iranian-backed auxiliaries to back Damascus and deploy near the Golan, helped Netanyahu make his case for Trump to recognize the Israeli claim of sovereignty.

Trump similarly delighted Israelis – while appalling other world powers – by recognizing Jerusalem as their capital and withdrawing from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

“Trump is a great friend of Israel,” Netanyahu said.

“He has torn the mask off this hypocrisy which doesn’t recognize the obvious.”

“DUMMY RESOLUTION”

Israeli authorities hope a revamping of Beruchim, home to an aging immigrant community from the former Soviet Union, to “Trump Heights” might bring a resident influx.

But a June 12 memorandum from Netanyahu’s office showed the plan was far from implementation: it lacks earmarked funds as well as final approval for its precise location and name.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a ceremony to unveil a sign for a new community named after U.S. President Donald Trump, in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights June 16, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a ceremony to unveil a sign for a new community named after U.S. President Donald Trump, in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights June 16, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

“In this (cabinet) resolution, it is proposed that the name of the community, if it is founded, be ‘Trump Heights’,” said the memorandum, signed by a deputy legal counselor, Yael Cohen.

The hesitancy was in part due to the fact that Netanyahu heads a caretaker government, having failed to form a coalition after coming ahead in Israel’s April 9 election. The conservative four-term premier must now contest a Sept. 17 vote.

In such an interval, Cohen wrote, legal rulings “require, as a general rule, restraint in decision-making” by the cabinet.

Netanyahu’s center-left rivals ridiculed Sunday’s ceremony.

“Whoever reads the small print on the ‘historic’ resolution understands that it is a dummy-resolution,” tweeted Zvi Hauser, an ex-Netanyahu cabinet secretary now with an opposition party.

Netanyahu’s political flailing has tested the patience of Trump, who earlier this month said Israel was “all messed up” over the election and needed to “get their act together”.

The upheaval appears to have put a spanner in the works of a long-awaited U.S. proposal for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Trump advisers had predicted the plan would be made public this month, but officials now say that is unlikely to happen until after the September election.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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