A college in an Israeli settlement has been accorded university status in a first for the occupied West Bank, Israeli media reported on Tuesday.
Members of the “Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria,” a group close to Jewish settlers, voted 11 to 2 to recognize the college of higher education at the Ariel settlement as a university.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who heads the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, welcomed the decision, saying it would “allow the reinforcement of settlements.”
His party had made such a change in status a condition of his joining Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, the statement recalled.
In a statement, Netanyahu praised the recognition of Ariel college and called it “a day of celebration for Ariel and for higher education in Israel.”
But Israel’s Council for Higher Education, which regulates the seven universities in the Jewish state, opposed the move, branding it political.
Professor Amos Altshuler, head of the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria, told public radio: “The law obliges us to ask the advice of the Council for Higher Education, but we are not obliged to follow it.”
Two key ministers from Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party -- Education Minister Gideon Saar and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz -- had expressed support for the move.
But leftists, Arab Israelis and several universities oppose it, citing the risk of an international boycott targeting other Israeli universities. Israel has faced several academic boycotts over its occupation of the West Bank.
Set up in 1982 as an annex to Bar Ilan University, Ariel has 21,000 students in four faculties -- medicine, engineering, natural sciences and social sciences -- and also has architecture and telecommunications facilities.
On January 20, 2010, Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided to push ahead with plans to transform Ariel college into a university after a decision to do so that was initially taken five years previously had been frozen.
Full recognition as a university entitles the Ariel facility to significant additional funding and the ability to grant advanced degrees.