Last updated: 9 September, 2012

Israeli cabinet backs first West Bank university

Israel’s government on Sunday approved plans to upgrade a West Bank college to a full-fledged university, in a symbolic move which still requires a ruling by the High Court and the attorney general.

In July, the “Council for Higher Education in Judaea and Samaria,” a group close to Jewish settlers, recommended that the Ariel University Centre receive the upgraded status, which would make it the first university in the West Bank.

But Israel’s Council for Higher Education, which regulates the seven universities in the Jewish state, opposed the move, branding it political and filed a petition against it to the High Court of Justice.

On Sunday, the cabinet voted on a resolution declaring the move to be of “national importance,” while ordering that all measures be taken “to approve the decision of the Council for Higher Education in Judaea and Samaria, subject to the attorney general’s stance.”

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has yet to present his opinion to the move.

“It is important to have another university in Israel, it is important to have a university in Ariel,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the vote.

“I like breaking monopolies and cartels in every field,” he said, noting that there has not been a new university in Israel in 40 years, while the population has nearly tripled.

“Ariel is an inseparable part of Israel, and will stay an inseparable part of it in any future arrangement, like the other settlement blocs,” he said of the settlement which lies deep in the northern West Bank.

Education Minister Gideon Saar addressed the objection from academia to upgrading Ariel to a university, noting that “universities objected new universities in the past as well, such as Tel Aviv and Bar Ilan.”

“They were wrong then and are wrong today,” he said in a statement.

Set up in 1982 as an annex to Bar Ilan University, Ariel has 12,000 students in four faculties — medicine, engineering, natural sciences and social sciences — and also has architecture and telecommunications facilities.

Full recognition as a university entitles the Ariel facility to significant additional funding and the ability to grant advanced degrees.

Leftists, Arab Israelis and several universities firmly oppose the move, citing the risk of an international boycott targeting other Israeli universities. Israel has faced several academic boycotts over its occupation of the West Bank.

Head of the opposition Meretz party Zehava Galon slammed the move, which she said would cause Israel further international isolation.

“Providing a university in Ariel, on occupied grounds, with millions of shekels instead of strengthening the universities in Israel exemplifies the extreme-right government’s distorted priorities,” she wrote in a statement.