Israeli law means Netanyahu could unveil nothing but a new sign at the launch of a village named after Trump

Israel's pre-election government is not authorised to allocate land, meaning there was a lot of pretense at Sunday's inauguration of Ramat Trump


It was hard to work out what was true and what was fake ‪on Sunday afternoon when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet inaugurated Ramat Trump (“Trump Heights”), a new village named for the President of the United States on the Golan Heights.

For a start, it was not new.

Ramat Trump is situated on the site of Beruchim, a village originally founded in the late 1980s that was intended to be one of the hundreds of residential projects across Israel for the million new immigrants arriving from the crumbling Soviet Union.

It never succeeded in attracting them and today, five adults live among the mouldering, prefabricated buildings.

The residents neighbouring village of Kela Alon, which was more successful, are now concerned that Ramat Trump will divert resources and occupy land that it was relying on for its further development and expansion.

For now though, Ramat Trump is a Potemkin village, because the Netanyahu administration, still an interim government, cannot actually make decisions to allocate land or funding for a new settlement.

It can do little more than erect a sign with the new village’s name in Hebrew and English, along with Israeli and US flags. The government decision on Ramat Trump specifies only a general intention to build the place in the future, but no details on its exact location, size or cost. So why go ahead with the ceremony before any actual planning has taken place?

The answer is in the cabinet minutes: “there is important at making progress on this decision at this time to strengthen the diplomatic ties between Israel and the United States.”

Another reason for the timing could be found in the speech made at the ceremony by US Ambassador David Friedman.

“I can’t think of a more appropriate and a more beautiful birthday present,” he said, referring to his boss and former client, who two days earlier had celebrated his seventy-third.

Presidential recognition was on the way in the shape of a tweet from Donald Trump’s account thanking the prime minister for “a great honor!”

This was just the latest episode in the ongoing bromance between the two leaders following Mr Trump’s presidential declaration in March, only two weeks before the previous Israeli election, to recognise Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

That move had no immediate effect on the international stage, as no other country in the world recognises Israel’s claim to the Golan. Nor did it appear to affect the April 9 election, now officially as a stalemate as Mr Netanyahu failed to from a coalition and instead dissolved the Knesset.

Could Ramat Trump help in the next election campaign? Mr Netanyahu would probably have preferred that Mr Trump have been born closer to ‪September 17.

In what was perhaps a fitting postscript to the event, one of the helicopters that ferried the guests up to the Golan — the one for the cabinet — developed a mechanical failure, leaving ministers to make a four-hour trip by road back to central Israel, just in time for the evening rush-hour.

Perhaps some of them pondered on the way that for all the Golan’s undoubted natural beauty and strategic importance, there are very real reasons that not that many Israelis actually want to live there.

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