Israel moves to name Golan settlement after Trump

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, his wife Sara, United States Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, left, and his wife Tammy pose during the inauguration of a new settlement named after President Donald Trump in the Golan Heights on Sunday. Ariel Schalit/Associated Press

RAMAT TRUMP, Golan Heights — The Trump name is on apartment towers, hotels and golf courses. Now it is the namesake of a tiny Israeli settlement in the Israel-controlled Golan Heights.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Cabinet convened in this hamlet Sunday to inaugurate a new settlement named after President Donald Trump in a gesture of appreciation for the U.S. leader’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the territory.

The settlement isn’t exactly new. Currently known as Bruchim, it is over 30 years old and has a population of 10 people.

Israel is hoping the rebranded “Ramat Trump,” Hebrew for “Trump Heights,” will encourage a wave of residents to vastly expand it.

“It’s absolutely beautiful,” said U.S. Ambassador David Friedman, who attended Sunday’s ceremony. Noting that Trump celebrated his birthday on Friday, he said: “I can’t think of a more appropriate and a more beautiful birthday present.”

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.

But during a visit to Washington by Netanyahu in March, just weeks before Israeli elections, Trump signed an executive order recognizing the strategic mountainous plateau as Israeli territory. The decision, the latest in a series of diplomatic moves benefiting Israel, was widely applauded in Israel.

Developing Ramat Trump will not be easy. Ringed by high yellow grass and land mines, it is roughly 12 miles from the Syrian border and a half hour drive from the nearest Israeli town, Kiryat Shmona, a community of about 20,000 people near the Lebanese border.

According to Israeli figures, almost 50,000 people live in the Golan, including about 22,000 Jewish Israelis and nearly 25,000 Arab Druze residents.

While Israel has encouraged and promoted settlement in the Golan, its remote location, several hours from the economic center of Tel Aviv, has been an obstacle. The area is home to small agriculture and tourism sectors but otherwise has little industry.

The eight-year Syrian civil war, which at times has resulted in spillover fire into the Golan, also could present an obstacle to luring new residents.

Syria has demanded a return of the strategic territory, which overlooks northern Israel, as part of any peace deal. After the devastating civil war in Syria, the prospects of peace talks with Israel anytime soon seem extremely low.

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.