Defence Minister Ehud Barak on Monday confirmed a government decision to officially recognise the status of the first Israeli university established in the occupied West Bank.
“Defence Minister Ehud Barak tonight ordered General Nitzan Allon, the military commander of the central region (covering the West Bank), to proclaim the university college of Ariel a university,” the ministry said.
“This decision follows the decision in this regard by the government and the recommendations of the government’s legal adviser published today on this subject,” it added.
Israel approved plans to upgrade the college in Ariel to a full-fledged university on September 9, although the move still needed the approval of the defence minister in charge of the occupied Palestinian territories.
On Monday night, legal adviser Yehuda Weinstein recognised the merits of the government decision, following a recommendation from the “Council for Higher Education in Judaea and Samaria” — a group close to Jewish settlers.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the change in status, saying that “after decades, an additional university was born in Israel, which will strengthen higher education in the country”.
In September, 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.
Barak’s approval comes after the Netanyahu government has advanced the building of thousands of new settlement homes in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, sparking widespread condemnation.
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.