Settlers hail passing of law regulating West Bank universities

Ariel mayor praises legislation allowing settlement’s university to advance plans to establish a medical school school funded by Netanyahu supporter Sheldon Adelson

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

Ariel University in the West Bank (CC-BY Michael Jacobson/Wikipedia)
Ariel University in the West Bank (CC-BY Michael Jacobson/Wikipedia)

Settler leaders praised a new law that places Israeli colleges and universities in the West Bank on a par with institutions located inside Israel and under the auspices of the Council for Higher Education.

Ariel Mayor Eli Shviro called the legislation, passed by the Knesset on Monday, “a correction of a historic injustice,” adding in a statement Tuesday that it was a “necessary step, albeit late.”

The measure has been dubbed the Ariel University Law because, in granting West Bank institutions the same academic standing as other higher education institutions, it will allow the largest school over the Green Line to move forward with the establishment of a medical school.

Ariel University, located in the city-settlement of Ariel in the central West Bank, plans to double in size within the next five years, according to a plan promoted by Education Minister Naftali Bennett. The billionaire financiers Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, longtime supporters of West Bank settlement projects, will provide roughly $20 million for the major expansion. Part of the project, which includes an additional 10 to 12 facilities, is to build a four-year medical school to be named after the couple.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Education Minister Naftali Bennett on November 13, 2017.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Though the plan had the support of the finance subcommittee of the Council for Higher Education, it still required the legislation in order for the new facilities to open.

Since the institution transformed from a college into a university in 2012, it has been granted extra funding by the state of about $4 million. With the expansion, the state would have to further increase its funding.

The university campus, which is expected to more than double in size, has already begun construction on some of the buildings.

Shiloh Adler, the secretary general of the Yesha settlement umbrella council, said he hoped the bill heralded the annexation of West Bank settlements.

“We were happy to hear that the law was passed to abolish the unnecessary Judea and Samaria Council for Higher Education and move Ariel University under the auspices of the Israel Council for Higher Education, like all other Israeli universities,” he told The Times of Israel.

“Just as there is no reason why Ariel University should be managed by a different council for higher education, we hope that the Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley will soon be placed under Israeli sovereignty just like all other Jewish communities in the State of Israel,” Adler added.

Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) tweeted Monday that the “law culminates the campaign we led to transform Ariel University into a regular Israeli university.

“From the application of sovereignty on Ariel University [let us proceed] to the application of sovereignty on Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria!” he cheered.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett (C) with his wife Gilat (left) greeting Sheldon Adelson (R) and his wife Miriam at the cornerstone setting ceremony for the new school of medicine at Ariel University, June 28, 2017. (Courtesy)

His comments came hours after a public clash between the US and Israel after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Likud lawmakers that he had been in talks with the White House about on a “historic” initiative to annex Israeli settlements. Washington, in addition to flatly denying the remark as false, was said to have reached out to to Netanyahu to demand a retraction, which the prime minister then provided.

Netanyahu’s initial comments came as part of a plea to coalition members to hold off on legislation that would annex Israeli settlements until after he received a Green Light from the Trump administration on the matter.

Following the White House’s outrage over the prime minister’s comments, Bennett and other right-wing lawmakers maintained that while they cherished Israel’s relationship with the US, their intention was to move forward with the legislation.

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