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Israel inaugurates ‘Trump Heights’ settlement in disputed Golan

AFP | Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman inaugurate ‘Trump Heights’ in Golan, on June 16, 2019.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday officially renamed a settlement in the disputed Golan Heights after Israel’s “great friend” Donald Trump, in a show of gratitude for the US president for recognising Israel’s sovereignty of the territory.

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In a ceremony attended by several cabinet ministers and accompanied by song and speeches, Netanyahu unveiled the “Trump Heights” sign, featuring the Israeli and American flags to mark the renaming of Israel’s Bruchim settlement, which was created 30 years ago.

"The Golan is Israeli and will remain so always," Netanyahu declared in his inauguration speech, praising Trump for his strong support for Israel by becoming the first foreign leader to recognise the Golan Heights as Israeli.

Trump is "a very great friend of Israel who has taken a decision that has never before been taken", he said.

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.

Trump recognised Israel's annexation of Golan Heights in March.

Some 23,000 Druze, an Arab Muslim minority also present in Syria and Lebanon, live in the occupied and annexed portion of the Golan, while 25,000 Israeli settlers have arrived there since 1967.

‘Absolutely beautiful’

The US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, attended the ceremony and called the renaming of the site “absolutely beautiful”.

“We all checked the history book… it almost never happens anywhere in the world that an entire community is dedicated in the name of a sitting president,” he was quoted by the Times of Israel as saying. “President Trump will be honored to be in that small cadre of Israeli heroes,” he said.

“My only regrets is that neither the president nor I are in the real estate business anymore because if we were, I’m sure it this would be high on our list for places that we would think about developing.”

Trump retweeted photos of the event, thanking Netanyahu and “and the State of Israel for this great honor!”

‘Cheap PR stunt’

Trump’s recognition of the annexation of Golan Heights is not the first time the US president has shown his allegiance with Netanyahu and Israel. In May, 2018, Trump transferred the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem causing violent protests and condemnation from much of the international community.

Trump's embassy decision broke with decades of international consensus not to recognise the city as the capital of Israel, which took over mainly Palestinian east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War and later annexed it.

Israel considers the entire city its capital, but the Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

In Netanyahu’s speech on Sunday, the prime minister said the new settlement would “drive development of the Golan Heights", vowing his government will invest in building homes and roads, as well as education and tourism facilities.

But according to critics, the task of developing the settlement still requires overcoming several additional bureaucratic obstacles and with Netanyahu running for re-election in the second national election this year, it remains unclear whether he will be able to complete the task.

Zvi Hauser, an opposition lawmaker who formerly served as Netanyahu’s Cabinet secretary, called Sunday’s ceremony a cheap PR stunt.

“There’s no funding, no planning, no location, and there’s no real binding decision,” he said.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

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