No plans, no budget: ‘Trump Heights’ inauguration slammed as a PR stunt

No plans, no budget: ‘Trump Heights’ inauguration slammed as a PR stunt

Opposition MK notes that there’s ‘no binding decision to implement’ pledge to name Golan town after US president

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Works unveil the sign for "Ramat Trump" in the Golan Heights, June 16, 2019. (YouTube screenshot)
Works unveil the sign for "Ramat Trump" in the Golan Heights, June 16, 2019. (YouTube screenshot)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday was set to celebrate the establishment of a new town in the Golan Heights in honor of US President Donald Trump. Formally, however, critics noted, no new locality can be established before the September elections, as the interim government does not have the authority for such a move.

The weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday was scheduled to accept a decision calling for the creation of the new locality called Ramat Trump (“Trump Heights” in English), but that very decision makes plain that the government has a lot more homework to do before such a step can actually take place.

“Anyone who reads the fine print in this ‘historic’ decision will understand that this is nothing more than a nonbinding, fake policy,” Blue and White MK Zvi Hauser said. “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.”

On Sunday afternoon, Netanyahu was set to convene a “festive cabinet meeting” in the Golan Heights village of Kela Alon, asking his ministers to approve his decision “to build a new community” named after Trump. After the meeting, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman was expected to join Netanyahu in the unveiling of a sign for Ramat Trump.

(The Government Naming Committee, in a May 30 meeting, had recommended the new locality be named President Trump Heights, but the government for unknown reasons dropped the first word.)

“Let’s hope President Trump does not know that his name is being used for this public relations exercise,” Hauser, a former cabinet secretary for Netanyahu who has since become a political rival, said in a press release.

“The prime minister must decide whether he really wants to establish a new settlement and deepen our roots in the Golan Heights or whether he is content with creating a virtual reality for the purposes of a photo op.”

Hauser attached to the press release a copy of an opinion written by the Prime Minister’s Office’s legal adviser, which notes that the cabinet decision is of a preliminary nature only, as more groundwork needs to be laid before the government can establish a new town.

Aerial view of the small village of Kela Alon in the Golan Heights, near the site of a new community to be renamed to honor US President Donald Trump. (Golan Regional Council)

Indeed, the cabinet decision calls for an “initiative to establish” a new Golan Heights community, but does not actually declare the establishment of one. In accordance with the legal adviser’s opinion, the cabinet instructs the Construction and Housing Ministry to conduct “professional staff work” in cooperation with other relevant authorities, and submit recommendations, within 90 days, to the chairman of the National Council for Planning and Building.

The cabinet further instructed the Finance Ministry to make recommendations regarding the budget required for the establishment of a new community in the Golan. So far, not a single shekel has been earmarked for the project.

“The settlement in the Golan is frozen,” lamented Hauser, who has long been fighting for international recognition of the Golan. “After 52 years of Israeli rule, there are only 25,000 Israelis in the Golan and the rate of population growth is negligible. This isn’t how a government properly settles the Golan.”

Nadav Eyal, Channel 13’s chief international correspondent, noted that the current interim government does not have the legal authority to establish new communities in the Golan.

“So they put this nice plaque, and there’s also some synthetic grass. Say what u will [about] Bibi — he gets Trump,” Eyal tweeted, referring to the prime minister by his nickname.

Netanyahu had decided in April to name a town in the Golan Heights after Trump in honor of the US president’s decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the northern territory earlier this year.

“In recognition of the work of the 45th President of the United States, President Donald Trump, on behalf of the State of Israel in a wide range of fields, and expressing gratitude for the American recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights led by President Donald Trump, it was decided to initiate establishment of a new residential community on the Golan Heights called Ramat Trump,” the cabinet decision read.

US President Donald Trump (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold up a Golan Heights proclamation outside the West Wing after a meeting at the White House on March 25, 2019, in Washington. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

Trump signed a proclamation on March 25 recognizing Israel’s hold on the plateau when Netanyahu visited the White House, in a move seen by some as timed to help the Israeli premier in his reelection bid.

It upended decades of US policy and drew some international condemnation, along with Israeli praise.

Israel captured the strategic plateau from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and in 1981 effectively annexed the area, in a move never recognized by the rest of international community, which considers the Golan Heights to be occupied Syrian territory.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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