The Israeli government on December 26 approved a plan to double the number of settlers in the Golan Heights, a strategic area taken from Syria in 1967.
25,000 Israelis currently live there. They settled there after the annexation of the Golan by Israel in 1981, following wars with Syria. This annexation is not recognized internationally. The United Nations and the European Union still consider the Golan to be occupied Syrian territory.
To establish its authority, Israel therefore wishes to “double the population on the Golan Heights”, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett indicated. A plan which should make it possible to fulfill “the need to strengthen, develop and inhabit this region”.
In detail, 7,300 new homes will be built in the existing settlements, as well as two new settlements, Assif and Matar, accommodating 6,000 houses. The plan also includes investments in medical and education systems. In total, this work will cost one billion shekels (around 280 million euros).
Besides the Israelis, approximately 23,000 Druze, a people of the Near East, inhabit the Golan Heights. They claim to be Syrians but have the status of residents in Israel.
The Golan Heights is a strategic area of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Beyond being very rich in water, it overlooks the Galilee (Israel) and the road leading to Damascus (Syria). Even though its annexation was decreed almost forty years ago, United Nations Security Council resolution 497 considers Israeli law on the Golan to be “null and void and without legal effect”.
In March 2019, the United States departed from this resolution. Former President Donald Trump had also recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, triggering the anger of Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The United Nations took the opportunity to recall that their position on the subject had not changed.
On December 26, Naftali Bennett praised the “importance” of “the recognition of Mr. Trump and the fact that the administration of Joe Biden has clarified that there is no change in this policy”. Before adding: “It goes without saying that the Golan Heights is Israeli.”