The Israeli government on Sunday approved a $ 317 million plan to double the population of Jewish settlers in the Golan Heights, 40 years after annexing the captured territory from Syria.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office voted in favor of the plan to build 7,300 settler homes in the area over a five-year period at a meeting held in the community of Mevo Hama in the Golan Heights.
He calls for one billion Israeli shekels to be spent on housing, infrastructure and other projects with the aim of attracting around 23,000 new Jewish settlers to the area, seized during the Six Day War of 1967.
“Our goal today is to double the population of the Golan Heights,” Bennett said ahead of the meeting.
He was forced to leave the meeting after his 14-year-old daughter tested positive for the coronavirus, putting him in isolation, but a vote on the program was taken after a delay.
“No change” in American policy
About 25,000 Israeli settlers live in the Golan Heights, along with about 23,000 Druze, who remained on the land after Israel seized it.
Israel annexed the territory on December 14, 1981, in a move unrecognized by most of the international community.
Former US President Donald Trump, widely regarded as pro-Israel, granted US recognition to Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights in 2019.
“The Golan Heights are Israeli. It goes without saying, ”Bennett said.
“The fact that the Trump administration recognized this and the fact that (President Joe’s) Biden’s administration made it clear that there had been no change in this policy are also important.”
Shortly after Biden took office in January, his Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggested there were legal questions surrounding Trump’s decision, which Syria condemned as a “flagrant violation” of his. sovereignty.
But Blinken said there was no question of turning the tide, especially with the continuation of the Syrian civil war.
Bennett claimed that after a decade of conflict in Syria, international calls to restore Syrian control of the Golan have been muted.
“Any knowledgeable person in the world understands that it is better to have calm, flourishing and green Israeli heights as opposed to the alternative,” he said.
Bennett heads an ideologically disparate eight-party coalition that relies on leftist support.
Some members of his cabinet, notably the conciliatory Meretz party, vehemently opposed plans to expand settlements in the West Bank, a Palestinian territory also occupied by Israel since 1967.
About 475,000 settlers now live in the West Bank in communities widely considered internationally illegal.
Bennett is the former head of a settler lobbying council that opposes the creation of a Palestinian state.
But he argued that unity over the Golan Heights demonstrated that Israeli control of the region was a matter of “national consensus.”
“The Golan Heights, the need to strengthen it, cultivate it and live there, is certainly a principle that unites everyone here,” he said.
Israel and Syria, which are still technically at war, are separated by a de facto border on the Golan Heights.
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