Israel Plans to Double Golan Heights

YERUSHALAYIM -
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett waves as he arrives at a cabinet meeting in Kibbutz Mevo Hama in the Golan Heights, Sunday. (REUTERS/Nir Elias)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday the country intends to double the amount of residents living in the Israeli side of the Golan Heights with a multimillion-dollar plan meant to further consolidate Israel’s hold on the territory.

Bennett said the new investment in the region was prompted by the Trump administration’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the swath of land and by the Biden administration’s indication that it will not soon challenge that decision.

“This is our moment. This is the moment of the Golan Heights,” Bennett said at a special Cabinet meeting in the Golan Heights. “After long and static years in terms of the scope of settlement, our goal today is to double settlement in the Golan Heights.

“First, I must thank the members of Kibbutz Mevo Hama, a member of the United Kibbutz Movement for 53 years, for warmly hosting this special Cabinet meeting.

“Friends, this is our moment; this is the moment for the Golan Heights. A combination of circumstances has led us today to a dramatic government decision to channel considerable resources, around NIS 1 billion, to strengthening communities on the Golan Heights.

“First, it must be said, the Golan Heights are Israeli; this is self-evident. Israeli law has been applied to them since 1981 and they are beyond all debate.

“The fact that the Trump administration recognized this, and the fact that the Biden administration has made it clear that there has been no change in this policy, are also important. After around ten years of terrible civil war in Syria, every knowledgeable person in the world understands that it is preferable to have Israeli heights that are quiet, flourishing and green as opposed to the alternative.

“Moreover, in the past two years, many Israelis have discovered that it is possible to work from home and that it is not necessary to live in the center of the country. In this context, the Golan Heights can be a wonderful option for whoever wants clean air, space and quality of life. Several minutes ago, I saw children in the kindergarten here and there is what to be envious about.

“Here is where our government comes into the picture. The plan that we will approve today marks 40 years since the law was applied and – truth be told – is years overdue. For many years, the scope of community life has stagnated. We have a major gap to close and we are starting to do so today.

“I would like to be clear: After many static years regarding the scope of community life, our goal today is to double the population of the Golan Heights. To this end, we will strengthen the city of Katzrin with two new neighborhoods, the 12th and 13th quarters.

“To this end, we will establish two new communities on the Golan Heights, Asif and Matar. We are increasing community life here.

“For this we are allocating considerable resources and I would like to thank all of the government ministries. Approximately NIS 1 billion will turn the Heights into a place that is good to live in.

“Of this money, more than NIS 500 million is for planning and housing. NIS 162 million is for regional development – tourism, industry, commerce, everything that creates good jobs here. Another NIS 160 million will be for improving the quality of life – transportation, medical care and other aspects of life.

“The Golan Heights will be very green in one sense and, in effect, will become the technological capital of renewable energy in Israel. I would like to thank the Energy Minister in this context.

“I would like to thank the ministers of the government, especially my friends Minister Gideon Sa’ar, Minister Ayelet Shaked, the Finance Minister and other ministers who joined in, also someone who is absent today, MK Tzvika Hauser, who really pushed and led us to this moment.

“And to the Israelis who are looking for a place to build their home, I say – the Heights are waiting for you; come to the Golan.”

Entrenching Israeli control over the territory would complicate any future attempt to forge peace with Syria, which claims the Golan Heights.

Israel liberated the Golan Heights in the 1967 Six Day war and later annexed the territory, promoting settlement and agriculture there as well as creating a thriving local tourism industry. The U.S. was the first country to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan.

Bennett said the war in Syria made the idea of Israeli control of the territory more acceptable to its international allies, adding that the alternative would be much worse.

Israel has long argued that the strategically important area has, for all practical purposes, been fully integrated into Israel since it was captured from Syria – and that control of the strategic plateau is needed as protection from Iran and its allies in Syria.

Tens of thousands of Israelis live in the Golan Heights, which is also home to a number of formerly Syrian Druze villages, some of which oppose Israeli control.