The cabinet unanimously approved a NIS 1 billion ($317 million) development plan on Sunday aimed at encouraging demographic growth in the Golan Heights, with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett saying Israel intends to double the number of Israelis living in the strategic area in the coming years.
Bennett also announced several new communities and neighborhoods in the Golan, during a special cabinet meeting held in the Golan’s Kibbutz Mevo Hama.
“This is our moment. This is the moment of the Golan Heights,” Bennett told ministers. “After long and static years in terms of the scope of settlement, our goal today is to double settlement in the Golan Heights.”
The plan’s goal, formulated by a team headed by the Prime Minister’s Office director-general, Yair Pines, is to boost the population in the Golan Regional Council and the Katzrin Local Council in 2022-2025.
Currently, some 53,000 people live in the Golan Heights: 27,000 Jews, 24,000 Druze, and some 2,000 Alawites (an ethnoreligious group originating from Shia Islam and a minority sect to which Syria’s ruling family, the Assads, belong).
During Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Bennett announced two new neighborhoods in the town of Katzrin, as well as two new communities to be named Asif and Matar, each with about 2,000 housing units.
The prime minister noted the recognition of former US president Donald Trump’s administration of Israeli control of the Golan Heights, and “the fact that the Biden administration has made it clear that there is no change in this policy.”
He added that since the COVID-19 pandemic has proven how many people can now work from home, the Golan is a “great option for those who prefer clean air, space and quality of life.”
Apart from the United States, the international community regards the Golan as part of Syria, which lost the territory in the 1967 Six Day War. Israel annexed the Golan in 1981.
In 2019, a new town, named Trump Heights, was inaugurated on the Golan to honor Trump’s recognition.
Bennett said that in light of the decade-long 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.”
For the first time since the start of the pandemic, all attending ministers were required to take a rapid COVID-19 antigen test before entering the cabinet meeting.