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Palestinians denounce inclusion of settlements in US-Israel scientific pact

In move seen by some as precursor to future West Bank annexation, Washington removes geographic restrictions from three 1970s science cooperation agreements

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a meeting to discuss the United Arab Emirates' deal with Israel to normalize relations, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 18, 2020. (Mohamad Torokman/Pool Photo via AP, File)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a meeting to discuss the United Arab Emirates' deal with Israel to normalize relations, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 18, 2020. (Mohamad Torokman/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday condemned the US-Israel agreement to extend scientific cooperation to areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War, describing it as a first step toward American recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank.

“This is a dangerous and unacceptable precedent, which we cannot stay silent,” Abbas’s official spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh said in a statement.

“We reject this American policy which attempts to help Israel consolidate its occupation of Palestinian lands. None of these policies will give any legitimacy to anyone. The settlements will one day disappear,” Abu Rudeineh added.

Israel and the US on Wednesday signed an agreement that removed all previous geographic restrictions from their scientific cooperation, a move that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called “a victory over all the organizations and countries that boycott Judea and Samaria,” using the Biblical term for the West Bank.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman sign a bilateral agreement at Ariel University, October 28, 2020 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

During a festive ceremony at Ariel University in the heart of the West Bank, Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman signed a protocol that amended three 1970s agreements that form the basis for bilateral scientific cooperation.

Those agreements had stipulated that cooperative projects “may not be conducted in geographical areas which came under the administration of the State of Israel after June 5, 1967, and may not relate to subjects primarily pertinent to such areas.”

The Palestinian Liberation Organization said in response to the move that “banning settlement products and services and taking action on companies operating in occupied Palestine is an international community’s obligation to stop Israeli settlements.”

The PLO added that “attempts by the Trump administration to normalize [settlemetnts], as clearly stated in their annexation plan (the so-called Peace to Prosperity plan), are an encouragement for Israel to perpetuate its control over the land and the people of Palestine and deny them their inalienable right to self-determination.”

Senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi said the move was “a clear recognition of Israel’s annexation of Palestinian territory,” and that it “upgrades the Trump administration’s involvement in Israeli war crimes to active and willful participation.”

Under President Donald Trump, the US has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Israeli sovereignty over the Golan. It has also reversed Washington’s longstanding position on West Bank settlements, arguing they are not necessarily violating international law.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaking at an event at Ariel University, October 28, 2020 (screengrab GPO)

“Plainly, this geographic restriction within these three agreements was an anachronism,” Friedman said at Wednesday’s ceremony. “We are righting an old wrong, and we are strengthening yet again the unbreakable bond between our two countries.”

The ambassador stressed that the US and Israel will continue to fund projects based on quality but will no longer refuse support for researchers because of their postal code. “We are depoliticizing a process that should never have been politicized in the first place,” he said.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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