Tel Aviv, June 17 (IANS) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has unveiled a new settlement — Trump Heights — in the occupied Golan Heights, named after the US President.
“We’re going to establish a new community something that hasn’t happened in many years, in honour of President Donald Trump,” Haaretz newspaper quoted Netanyahu as saying on Sunday during a government meeting.
Building work was yet to begin but a sign bearing Trump’s name and US and Israeli flags was unveiled, reports said. Critics slammed the move a publicity stunt with no legal authority.
“This is a historic day,” Netanyahu said, hailing President Trump as “a friend of Israel”, the daily reported.
According to him, naming of the establishment after Trump constituted a gesture of respect for the US President’s actions “for the good of the state of Israel in a wide variety of areas”, which included recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights — a move that was criticised by the international community.
US Ambassador David Friedman, who attended the ceremony, called the settlement “well deserved, but much appreciated”.
According to a government proposal, the establishment will be part of the Golan Regional Council and will be built in the extant Kela Alon community, in which dozens of families already live, Haaretz said.
The plan would see the settlement established in what is now the Bruchim neighbourhood, in which a few families live.
Israel seized the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war. In March, the US became the first country to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the area since Israel effectively annexed it in 1981.
Trump later took to Twitter to thank Netanyahu and his government on the move, saying, “Thank you PM Netanyahu and the State of Israel for this great honour.”
Trump also retweeted a tweet by the US Ambassador, who wrote about the ceremony on his Twitter handle.
“A great day on the Golan. PM Netanyahu and I had the honour to dedicate ‘Trump Heights’ — first time Israel has dedicated a village in honour of a sitting President since Harry Truman (1949). Happy Birthday Mr President,” Friedman said in his tweet.
But despite the fanfare, as the current government is temporary it cannot officially approve the establishment. At this point, it can only start the administrative work on the project.
Last week, an event to “recognize America in the Golan” that was supposed to be organised by Netanyahu and Friedman was cancelled a few days before the schedule.
According to head of the Golan Regional Council Haim Rokah, it was cancelled due to “dissolving the Knesset (Parliament), governmental reasons and legal problems that were out of our control”.