Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has unveiled an illegal settlement in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights named after US President Donald Trump.
Netanyahu yesterday inaugurated the settlement – called "Ramat Trump", Hebrew for "Trump Heights" – hailing the US President as a "great friend" of Israel. The development will extend the existing settlement of Bruchim, located in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights captured by Israel during the war of 1967.
Earlier this year, President Trump unilaterally recognised the Golan Heights as Israeli territory, ignoring international law under which it remains occupied territory. Yesterday's move has been touted as Israel's attempt to honour and thank President Trump for his decision.
Netanyahu yesterday echoed this sentiment, calling the event an "historic day" and telling a government meeting that "we're going to establish a new community, something that hasn't happened in many years, and in honour of President Donald Trump".
President Trump responded to the inauguration, writing on Twitter "Thank you PM Netanyahu and the State of Israel for this great honor!"
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 16, 2019
Members of the Trump administration also celebrated the new settlement, with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman tweeting: "A great day on the Golan. PM Netanyahu and I had the honor to dedicate "Trump Heights" — first time Israel has dedicated a village in honor of a sitting president since Harry Truman (1949). Happy Birthday Mr. President!!"
A great day on the Golan. PM Netanyahu and I had the honor to dedicate "Trump Heights" — first time Israel has dedicated a village in honor of a sitting president since Harry Truman (1949). Happy Birthday Mr. President!! @POTUS pic.twitter.com/fdYWzokFLK
— David M. Friedman (@USAmbIsrael) June 16, 2019
Netanyahu also used the inauguration ceremony as an opportunity to discuss Israel's regional interests, saying: "Everyone knows what's been happening over the past decade on the other side of this border [in Syria]. If it weren't for us, this place [the Golan Heights] would be populated with fanatic Iranian militias – we will never let that happen."
Yesterday's move has been criticised as little more than a PR stunt, with commentators pointing out that Netanyahu has no authority to establish a new town while he remains head of an interim government. Until fresh elections are held on 17 September – the second this year after Netanyahu failed to form a ruling coalition last month – the government cannot move forward with plans to develop the settlement.
Zvi Hauser, a Knesset Member (MK) for the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) alliance – which currently serves as the de facto opposition – stressed that "anyone who reads the fine print in this 'historic' decision will understand that this is nothing more than a nonbinding, fake policy". He added: "There is no budgeting, no planning, no location for a settlement, and there is no binding decision to implement the project. But at least they insisted on a name for the settlement."
The decision to name a town after President Trump was first taken in April, just a month after President Trump announced the US would recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The President's decision was vehemently criticised by the international community, including Russia, Tunisia and other Arab states.
The move was also seen as the latest in a series of US decisions favouring Israel, namely the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December 2017 and moving the US embassy to the Holy City in May 2018.