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Israel approves funding to build 'Trump Heights' settlement in disputed territory

Israel approves funding to build 'Trump Heights' settlement in disputed territory

A sign dedicating an Israeli settlement to U.S. President Trump is on display in the Golan Heights in the Levant. | Facebook/Tzipi Hotovely

Israel’s cabinet has approved funding to develop a settlement in the Golan Heights named after U.S. President Donald Trump as a show of “gratitude” for Trump’s recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the territory last year. 

Israeli media reports that on Sunday, Israel’s cabinet earmarked 8 million shekels (about $2.3 million) to develop “Trump Heights” near the village of Qela in Golan Heights, a disputed territory that Israel captured from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed in 1981.  

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposed the plan last year to name a new settlement after Trump following his decision last March to make the U.S. the first foreign country to recognize Israel’s sovereignty of the area. 

Last June, cabinet members officially voted to rebrand a Qela neighborhood as Ramat Trump, which in English translates to “Trump Heights.” 

In the cabinet meeting Sunday, Netanyahu was quoted as saying that Israel would "begin practical steps in establishing the community of Ramat Trump on the Golan Heights.”

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“The government today approved the decision on the establishment of the settlement in Ramat Trump in the Golan Heights and the settlement ministry begins work to train the field to populate by 300 families,” Minister of Settlement Affairs Tzipi Hotovely said in a statement

“The decision on the establishment of the settlement is big news. The Ministry of Settlement leads the establishment of the first settlement nucleus in the settlement and will continue to act to strengthen settlement in all parts of the country Israel.”

According to The Jerusalem Post,  some of the funding is earmarked for planning by the Housing and Construction Ministry while the rest is earmarked for the construction of temporary structures by the World Zionist Organization.

In response to the settlement’s dedication last June, Trump sent a tweet thanking Netanyahu and Israel “for this great honor.”

The funding approval comes as there are over 26,000 Jewish settlers living in the Golan Heights as Israel has built dozens of settlements in the region through the years, according to The Associated Press

There are believed to be at around the same number of Arabs living in the region. Most Arabs in the region follow the Druze sect of Shia Islam and have rejected Israel’s offer of citizenship, according to Reuters

Trump said last March that recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights was meant to ensure security for Israel. However, critics have argued that Israel’s annexation violates international law. 

"Today, aggressive action by Iran and terrorist groups in southern Syria, including Hezbollah, continue to make the Golan Heights a potential launching ground for attacks against Israel — very violent attacks," Trump said at the time. "This should have been done numerous presidents ago." 

Syria’s foreign ministry called Trump’s recognition of Israel’s sovereignty in the Golan Heights a "blatant attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Prior to Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights, his administration moved the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. 

The move drew support from the president’s evangelical conservative base but also criticism from government heads in the Middle East and others who fear it could hinder any chances at creating peace in the Middle East as both Jerusalem and Palestinian Authority claim Jerusalem to their capital. 

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Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith, or Facebook: SamuelSmithCP.

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