Israel attempts to open university in Palestinian land despite critics
Israel has agreed to upgrade to university status a college built in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.
Israel has agreed to upgrade to university status a college built in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, a move critics see as placing another obstacle in the path of U.S.-backed efforts to resume stalled peace talks.
The decision that is expected to sparked a new wave of the critics coincided with the latest visit to the region by U.S. peace envoy George Mitchell for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters that establishing a full Israeli university in land near Nablus that Palestinians want for their state was "part of the same policy of dictation rather than negotiation".
"Every time Senator Mitchell comes to the region, they greet him with such policies," Erekat added.
A statement from Barak's office confirmed that on Wednesday he had "given his authorisation for the Ariel College to become a university centre", a process that would be completed only once a separate academic panel gave its authorisation.
The college of more than 8,000 students was built in the 1980s in one of the biggest Jewish settlements on land occupied since the Arab-Israeli war of 1967.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak formalised the decision in a 2005 cabinet ruling to that effect.
Neve Gordon, a political scientist at Ben-Gurion University and member of a group that sought a court order to cancel the Ariel College decision, called it "another instance of Israel deepening its roots in the West Bank".
"You create facts on the ground, then say we can't return these areas. It's a part of the old wall-and-tower approach to building settlements," Gordon told Reuters in a reference to the Zionist strategy of building outposts to claim territory.
He also criticised Barak personally, saying he was ignoring his own left-wing Labour party's past commitments to a deal on Palestinian statehood: "I thought Barak was for a two-state solution," Gordon said. "But apparently he is not."
Israel defends the plan under the pretext of keeping the Ariel settlement under any peace deal that creates a Palestinians state. Even Palestinian leaders acknowledge such settlements could be annexed by Israel in return for a Palestinian state getting more land elsewhere.
But critics of the college upgrade said the move created facts on the ground that may further complicate already delayed negotiations that have yet to produce any deal that would give Palestinians sovereignty in the West Bank.
Left-wing Israeli academics protested that a new university would siphon away funds earmarked for other educational institutions and possibly hurt their relations with foreign academics, especially in Europe, where university groups have threatened to boycott Israel in the past over settlement policy.
Uri Avnery, a former Israeli lawmaker and veteran left-wing critic of settlements, said Barak had "granted legitimacy to all those in the world who call to boycott Israeli universities".
Reuters Last Mod: 22 Ocak 2010, 08:31