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PM, US envoy Friedman to hold signing ceremony Wed. at Ariel

Israel and US to extend their scientific cooperation to West Bank and Golan

Removal of last remaining geographic restrictions will allow 3 foundations to offer grants beyond Green Line, essentially erasing the demarcation for Washington

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, center, and then-tourism minister Yariv Levin during a meeting to discuss mapping extension of Israeli sovereignty to areas of the West Bank, held in the Ariel settlement, February 24, 2020. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, center, and then-tourism minister Yariv Levin during a meeting to discuss mapping extension of Israeli sovereignty to areas of the West Bank, held in the Ariel settlement, February 24, 2020. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)

NEW YORK — The US and Israel will expand their scientific cooperation agreements to include the West Bank and the Golan Heights, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced Tuesday.

Three bilateral foundations established by the US and Israel to promote scientific cooperation will have their geographic restrictions removed in a signing ceremony on Wednesday in the northern West Bank city-settlement of Ariel, to be attended by Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

Since their establishment in the 1970s, the Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation (BIRD), the Binational Science Foundation (BSF) and the Binational Agricultural Research and Development Foundation (BARD) all capped their cooperation at Israel’s pre-1967 borders and would not grant funding to research and development projects in the West Bank.

BIRD, BSF and BARD represent the last remaining agreements between Israel and the US that include geographic restrictions.

The US embassy declined to comment on the matter.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (4th from right) tours the Efrat settlement with settler leaders on February 20, 2020. (Courtesy)

The updated agreements will represent the latest nod of legitimacy by the Trump administration to Israeli settlements, which much of the international community considers illegal.

The White House has avoided criticizing Israel for settlement expansion since Trump took office and in November 2019, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo softened Washington’s official position on the matter. He repudiated a 1978 State Department legal opinion that held that civilian settlements in the occupied territories are “inconsistent with international law.”

However, Netanyahu agreed to shelve the plan as part of the US-brokered normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirates. The premier has vowed that annexation is only suspended temporarily and US officials have said they still support the idea in principle.

However, sources familiar with the normalization negotiations told The Times of Israel last month that the US promised the UAE that it would not give its blessing to an Israeli annexation move — something Netanyahu says he will not act without — until at least 2024.

Netanyahu extended invitations to settler mayors, but according to Channel 13. made sure to leave two names off the guest list: Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan and Jordan Valley Regional Council chairman David Elhayani, who also serves as the head of the Yesha umbrella council of settler mayors.

Elhayani and Dagan have heavily criticized Netanyahu in recent months over his decision to suspend long-promised plans to annex large parts of the West Bank. Elhayani has gone as far as to say the premier had betrayed settlers and has called for Likud to replace Netanyahu as chairman.

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