Taking advantage of the crisis in Syria, Israel has announced plans to expand settlements in the Golan Heights. Naftali Bennett, the leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party, proposed a plan that would bring 100,000 new settlers to the Golan over the next five years.
Israel first took control of the Golan Heights, 460 square miles of land on the Syrian-Israeli border, during the Six Day War in 1967 and established settlements on land occupied by local Druze residents who currently number around 22,000. Israel later annexed the Heights in 1981, a move which was condemned by the international community.
The Golan Heights, which contains rich, productive agricultural land and draws tourists, is valuable territory. Israeli energy company Afek is currently drilling for oil in the area, creating an added incentive for Israel to maintain control.
Just two years ago, Israeli military engineers overhauled the forty-five mile border fence with Syria and replaced it with a steel barricade that includes barbed wire, touch sensors, motion detectors, infrared cameras, and ground radar, putting it on par with the Wall Israel has constructed in the West Bank.
Bennett’s plan for the Golan Heights will cost hundreds of millions of shekels and involve expanding settlements and schools, creating job opportunities, and enhancing transportation. The plan’s 100,000 new settlers would quintuple the Israeli population in the Golan. This will likely threaten the Druze population, which already complains of land confiscation and an inequitable division of resources.
Doron Bogdanovsky, the Secretary-General of a Golan Heights kibbutz, has already approved plans for 100 new families to move in over the next ten years. The plans include a new neighborhood, called Banim Bonim (“Children Build” in Hebrew), which is slated to begin construction soon.
“We’re in a whole new strategic situation, and a new strategic situation requires new strategic responses,” Bennett told The New York Times. “I think we have an opportunity here, a rare opportunity, and I think it’s vital. Given the storm we’re in that can go on for the next five or 50 years, nobody knows, we need some constants, and one big constant is for the big mountain of the Golan to be Israeli.”