There’s not much going on in the buzzing new village of Trump Heights. Turning off route 959, which runs from northern Israel to the Golan Heights, it wasn’t quite clear at first why our Israeli guide had taken us to an abandoned farm field. Standing in the middle of some flattened yellow grass, however, we saw it: a big (yuge) green sign with bold gold letters in Hebrew and English, the Israeli and American flags crossed in friendship – ‘TRUMP HEIGHTS’. It must have been 10 feet tall.
The latest settlement in the Golan was a gift from Benjamin Netanyahu to the President, as thanks for US recognition that the disputed region is Israeli territory. Its grand opening last week was a much-touted event – Bibi himself went to cut the ribbon, together with the US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, whose new office is in Jerusalem.
A great day on the Golan. PM Netanyahu and I had the honor to dedicate “Trump Heights” — first time Israel has dedicated a village in honor of a sitting president since Harry Truman (1949). Happy Birthday Mr. President!! @POTUS pic.twitter.com/fdYWzokFLK
— David M. Friedman (@USAmbIsrael) June 16, 2019
I narrowly missed the statesmen when I was there last week. From the pictures, it looked like a swanky affair, a major project. The reality is somewhat different: 48 hours after the grand opening ceremony, already the lush artificial astro-turf – FAKE GRASS – the Prime Minister had stood on was piled up carelessly a couple of meters away from the sign. Nearby is a dilapidated barn, some gates leading to nowhere, and a lone tractor chugs by. It’s not a settlement so much as a barren field, surrounded by more nothingness.
Trump Heights is, then, a Potemkin project – a phony gesture to warm the US president’s heart, and give @realDonaldTrump something to retweet.
Even if the Netanyahu government are serious about developing the idea, progress is unlikely to be forthcoming any time soon. Netanyahu failed to form a government in the May elections, and currently only serves as interim prime minister. He can authorize no funding or building in Trump Heights. But that won’t matter to either Trump or Netanyahu: Anshel Pfeffer, the Economist’s man in Israel, tells me that Bibi knows Trump well enough to understand that it’s the symbolism not substance that counts. Trump Heights may not be the next Trump Towers, but it has served its purpose: satisfying the Trump’s titanic ego, just for a moment.