Israeli officials have in a highly controversial move decided to create the country's first university in one of its settlements in the West Bank.
Upon recommendation by Israel's education minister Gideon Saar a higher education council favoured an upgrade for the college institution in the Israeli Ariel settlement in the West Bank to a university (reports BBC News, Jerusalem Post and Ynet News).
The decision to establish this university on a settlement on the occupied Palestinian territory is bound to cause international controversy with many Israeli and Palestinian academics already condemning the decision.
The Israeli settlements in the West Bank are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes the finer points of this.
Israeli settlers in the West Bank see giving university status to the college establishment as a way of giving greater legitimacy to the Ariel settlement. The founder of the settlement and the mayor Ron Nachman was quoted as saying that "today should be a celebration day. Another university is born. 13,000 students will become students of a new university. Ariel is a university city." He says that he hopes his "battle will be finished by this victory."
Ariel is one of the largest Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
The Ariel institution is open for all Israeli citizens, including Arab-Israelis but is closed to Palestinians residing in the West Bank. Xavier Abu Eid a member of the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department stressed that it is "important to say that while Israel is building a new institution for students in the West Bank, there are Palestinian students from Gaza who are not allowed to study in the West Bank."
Many Israeli academics have signed a petition against this move. The launcher of the petition, Nir Gov of the Weizmann Institute of Science stated that him and around 1,000 other Israeli academics "are against the attempt by the government of Israel to use academic institutions to further a political agenda which we are very much against, which is the establishment of the settlements and the occupation as a permanent thing in Israel."
Mr. Gov also expressed fears that creating a university in one of the controversial Israeli settlements on the West Bank could possibly lead to academic boycotts against Israeli educational institutions.
This newly established university in Ariel is Israel's eighth university and is the country's first outside of its sovereign and internationally recognized boundaries the Green Line represent.