US cuts science, tech cooperation with Israeli institutions in the West Bank

Decision brings back longstanding policy that had been reversed by the Trump administration; will mostly affect Ariel University, also applies to East Jerusalem, Golan Heights

Students walk at the Ariel University campus in the West Bank settlement of Ariel on January 25, 2017. (Sebi Berens/Flash90)
Students walk at the Ariel University campus in the West Bank settlement of Ariel on January 25, 2017. (Sebi Berens/Flash90)

The United States confirmed on Monday that it had decided to cut support to scientific and technology research in Israeli institutions in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Golan Heights, returning to a long-running US policy that had been reversed under former US president Donald Trump.

New guidance to US government agencies advises that “engaging in bilateral scientific and technological cooperation with Israel in geographic areas which came under the administration of Israel after 1967 and which remain subject to final-status negotiations is inconsistent with US foreign policy,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

He stressed that the United States “strongly values scientific and technological cooperation with Israel” and said the restriction on West Bank funding “is reflective of the long-standing US position going back decades.”

The decision will most visibly apply to Ariel University, a major academic institution founded in 1982 on what was then a new settlement in the West Bank.

The Kan public broadcaster reported on Sunday, ahead of the announcement, that the US had informed Israel of the decision several weeks ago.

In a briefing with reporters on Sunday, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen protested the move. “I object to the decision and think it is wrong. In similar cases in the past, the Israeli government fully reimbursed parties damaged by such decisions,” Cohen said.

The policy was briefly reversed under former US president Donald Trump, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-US ambassador David Friedman signed an agreement that removed all previous geographic restrictions from the two countries’ scientific cooperation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left and then US ambassador David Friedman, right, attend a ceremony in Jerusalem, May 21, 2017. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

Members of the rival Republican Party attacked the administration’s decision on Monday.

Senator Ted Cruz, known for his outspoken criticism of Biden, slammed the administration for what he called “antisemitic discrimination” against Jews in the West Bank, and said it was “pathologically obsessed with undermining Israel.”

Friedman accused the Biden administration of embracing the activist movement to boycott Israel. The administration, however, says it opposes the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which calls for severing ties with Israel as a whole, not just settlements.

The Green Line demarcated between Israel and its neighbors under the 1949 Armistice Agreements that ended Israel’s War of Independence. In the 1967 Six Day War, Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria, East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan, and the Gaza Strip from Egypt.

Israel later annexed the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem in moves not recognized by the international community, and unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip.

Breaking with precedent, the Trump administration recognized the annexation of the Golan Heights, moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and took actions to normalize Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including by letting their products be labeled as “made in Israel.”

Israel — and even governments led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — has in the past agreed to sign cooperation agreements that exclude entities beyond the Green Line. The European Union has taken a similar position over the years on not funding projects that are conducted outside the borders of Israel proper.

Miller acknowledged on Monday that the Biden administration’s decision was very narrow in scope and that it was not taking the more far-reaching move of revoking the so-called Pompeo Doctrine, as urged by progressives. The policy unveiled by Trump’s secretary of state Mike Pompeo in 2019 deemed settlements “not per se inconsistent with international law.” It overturned a 1978 memo by State Department legal adviser Herbert Hansell, which characterized settlements as illegal.

Pressure on the Biden administration to restore the Hansell memo will likely intensify as Israel continues approving plans for new settlement homes at record pace.

In a leaked recording from a Likud faction meeting earlier this week, Netanyahu could be heard reprimanding fellow faction members over extreme statements against the US and in support of establishing more illegal outposts in the West Bank, suggesting that they led to the Biden administration’s decision to cut funding to Israeli scientific institutions beyond the Green Line.

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