Israel plans to double Jewish settlement on Golan Heights

PM claims Syrian war makes Israeli control of territory more palatable internationally

The Israeli government has approved an ambitious plan to double the number of Jews living on the Golan Heights, which was captured from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War.

The €280 million plan, approved unanimously at the weekly cabinet meeting that was held at a kibbutz on the strategic plateau, includes the construction of thousands of new housing units, creating two new communities, developing transportation infrastructure and creating thousands of new jobs.

“This is our moment. Our goal is to double the settlement in the Golan Heights,” said prime minister Naftali Bennett, arguing that the brutal war in Syria made the idea of Israeli control of the territory more acceptable to its international allies.

He said this was an issue that united the broad-based government coalition, which comprises eight parties from across the political spectrum with the exception of the extreme right.


“The fact that government ministers from the left and the right are sitting together is moving. Our government is enabling the rediscovery of a broad Israeli consensus,” he said.

Despite his comments, there was opposition from some within the left-wing Meretz, and party leader Tamar Zandberg admitted the decision amounted to a "complicated" compromise for the party. "We support peace with Syria and hope one day it will happen," she said.

Trump recognition

Some 53,000 people live in the Golan Heights: 27,000 Jews, 24,000 Druze, and some 2,000 Alawites – a minority sect to which Syria’s ruling Assad family belongs.

In 1981 the government of Menachem Begin annexed the territory but the move was not recognised by the international community, and Syria insists that the entire plateau, which overlooks much of northern Israel, be returned to its sovereignty.

In 2019 US president Donald Trump recognised the Golan Heights as part of Israel, making the United States the first and so far only country to do so. The controversial move, coming a few weeks before an Israeli election, was seen as a gesture to then prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who responded by naming a small Golan community Trump Heights. The administration of Joe Biden has indicated that the recognition will remain in place.

“It doesn’t matter how many cabinet meetings are held on the Golan, it is occupied Syrian territory,” said Knesset member Ahmed Tibi from the predominantly Arab Joint List opposition party.

There was also opposition from some Israeli residents of the Golan Heights, who claimed they were not consulted over the development plan, which they warned could ruin the unique scenery and ecosystem of the relatively sparse landscape. Local environmental activists said it would make more sense to strengthen existing small communities than to build new towns in the area.