Israel expands a university in West Bank settlement

Hend Kortam
5 Min Read
The Israel Knesset sits in session in Tel Aviv (AFP)

An expansion granting a college university status inside a West Bank settlement, received a green light from Israel on Monday, cementing its status as the first educational institution built onto contested land in the Occupied Territories.

This will be the first university inside an Israeli settlement, according to The New York Times. The decision came following a vote in which the members of an education committee voted 11 to 2 on to recognise the college of higher education as university, said AFP. Final approval will have to come from the army commanders of the territory, according to the Haaretz.

The Ariel University Centre of Samaria has around 13,000 students according to the BBC or as many as 21,000 according to AFP, turning the college into a university means that the university will receive a larger budget. On the other hand, other university heads are not welcoming the decision, including the Council of Presidents of Israeli Universities.

According to The New York Times, university heads said there was too much competition for budgets and resources already. The BBC reported that a petition which was signed by over a 1,000 Israeli academics has been signed in opposition to the move. Other Israeli observers described the move as “political”.

There are also fears among Israeli academics that the move will lead to boycott of Israel’s universities according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Ariel was built in the late 1970s and as of 2009 housed over 17,000, according to Israel Central Bureau of Statistics figures. It has a barrier surrounding parts of its Eastern and Southern sides with a barrier planned to cover the rest of the sides of the settlement, according to Israeli human rights organisation, B’tselem’s map.

Israel’s settlement building activity on Palestinian land is considered illegal by every government in the world except for Israel’s, according to the BBC. The Israeli human rights group, Yesh Din, said the among the mechanisms Israel uses to expand their settlements is “Illegal construction and fencing by Israeli settlers on private Palestinian lands (which) are used to extend the boundaries of settlements by asserting control over adjoining lands.”

This comes at a time when Israel’s internal state of affairs is on rocky ground. The Kadima Party withdrew from the coalition with Likud amid protests by Israel’s social justice movement. Last Saturday, an Israeli protester, Moshe Silman, set himself on fire which led to people referring to him as ‘Israel’s Mohamed Bouazizi.’

The decision to quit the coalition government was announced on Tuesday but the talk of the coalition breaking down had loomed over for weeks. Shual Mofaz, chairman of the Kadima Party, threatened to walk out of the coalition last month over the creation of a new draft law for army conscription. Israel has to replace its current law, the Tal Law, by 1 August, which grants most Haredi, or the Ultra-Orthodox, and Arabs exemptions from the army.

The Plesner Committee which was created to draft recommendations on how to replace the law was dissolved by the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just days before it was set to release its findings.

The committee released its recommendations despite the dissolution, and Netanyahu reluctantly accepted them, forcing the two parties to engage in negotiations, which ultimately failed. “I told the prime minister that if he fails to accept the Plesner principles, I was out and then the Likud faction accepted my position,” Mofaz said, according to Ynet News.

A bill to replace Tal Law was not passed, as expected on Wednesday. Ynet News reported that 74 members of Knesset voted against with only 22 voting for, most of which are from the Yisrael Beiteinu Party and some form the Kadima Party.

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