On a Golan plain suddenly appear American and Israeli flags and a golden plaque with the name Trump. In this Syrian territory occupied by the Hebrew state, the American president did not build a luxury hotel but gave his name to a colony.
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Recognition of the annexation of the Golan by Israel, of Jerusalem as the capital of the Hebrew State; boom in settlements in the Palestinian Territories and sponsor of the normalization of relations with Arab Gulf monarchies: Donald Trump has proven to be a valuable ally of the State of Israel.
So much so that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likes to say of the current White House tenant that he is the “greatest friend” Israel has ever had.
One tangible sign of this legacy is nestled in the far reaches of the occupied Golan, near the borders of Syria and Lebanon.
To pay tribute to the American president, who recognized the annexation in 1981 of a large part of this strategic plateau taken from Syria during the 1967 war, Mr. Netanyahu inaugurated the “Trump Heights” colony there in June 2019.
In fact, this relatively isolated place was already a colony populated in the early 1990s by Jewish families who left the former USSR. Only five of them have not moved and remain with the goal of reviving their community.
“Since Trump’s declaration (on the Golan Heights) and the decision to build here, we’ve seen an increase in investor interest. It’s a huge change, ”notes Haim Rokach, head of the Golan Regional Council, whose eyes widen at the mere mention of the US president.
Twenty new families are expected in “Trump Heights” in November. A few weeks from the deadline, excavators are busy on the site and this could only be the beginning.
According to Shai Toni Yeheskel, head of foreign affairs at the Local Council for the Golan, a fertile plateau dotted with vineyards and orchards, the goal is to add 20 families per year to the colony over the next decade.
“For the first time in almost 30 years, residents here have hope. It will become the center of the Golan, ”he said.
Living in dilapidated homes, the aging population of “Trump Heights” coexists with young adults who are members of a program to prepare them for military service.
“We help them, we carry their groceries, we talk to them, we make sure that everything goes well for them”, testifies Ayelet Schwab, 18 years old, coming from Efrat, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, Palestinian territory occupied by Israel .
Today, around 25,000 settlers live on the Golan alongside some 23,000 Druze, most of whom still claim to be Syrians while having the status of residents in Israel.
Trump vs. Obama
The number of Israeli settlers (over 450,000) is much higher in the West Bank, where 2.8 million Palestinians also live. Israeli colonization is illegal under international law.
Under the Obama administration, Israel, of which the United States remains the first ally, had limited colonization.
But after the election of Donald Trump, the number of approved new constructions jumped and Washington now judges that these settlements are “not” contrary to international law.
According to the Israeli NGO Peace Now, which documents and opposes settlement, the number of new housing units in the settlements has doubled during Mr. Trump’s first three years in power compared to Mr. Obama’s last three.
The increase “really coincides with Trump,” said Brian Reeves, an NGO official. Since there are often long delays between the approval of a construction project and its completion, this legacy from Trump could extend over another decade, he says.
In the occupied Golan, Israeli officials are insisting on guarantees, they say, that these disputed lands will remain under Israel’s control indefinitely, providing stability for investors.
“We have many hotels in the Golan but not enough rooms, especially VIP suites. We are aiming to build new facilities in the future, ”Yeheskel notes. And who knows one of them might be under the Trump hotels banner.