Israel OKs Plan for New Golan Settlement Named After Trump

JERUSALEM (AP) -- An Israeli cabinet minister on Sunday said the government approved plans to build a new settlement in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights named after President Donald Trump.

Settlements Minister Tzipi Hotovely wrote on Facebook that her ministry will start preparations for Ramat Trump -- Hebrew for “Trump Heights” -- to house 300 families.

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, and Israeli settlements in the territory, illegal under international law.

But Trump signed an executive order recognizing the strategic mountainous plateau as Israeli territory in March 2019. The move came during a visit to Washington by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just weeks before Israeli elections. The decision, just one of several diplomatic moves benefiting Israel, was widely applauded there.

The Israeli government's approval of the plan, which according to Israeli media will involve earmarking 8 million shekels ($2.3 million) for developing the town, advances a project announced by Netanyahu last year with great pomp and fanfare. Sunday's announcement coincided with Trump’s birthday, although it was unclear if it was connected.

Last June, Netanyahu convened his Cabinet in the small hamlet of Qela for a vote on rebranding the community as a gesture of appreciation for the president’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

The small town of Qela is home to under 300 people. Its original neighborhood of Bruchim, which will be rebranded as Trump Heights, is home to less than a dozen.

At a Cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu said that Israel would "begin practical steps in establishing the community of Ramat Trump on the Golan Heights, Israel’s sovereignty over which was recognized by President Trump.”

Israel has built dozens of settlements in the Golan over the years, with an estimated 26,000 Jewish settlers living there as of 2019. Roughly the same number of Arabs live there, most of them members of the Druze sect of Shiite Islam.