JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Cabinet in a symbolic move approved changing the status of the Ariel University Center in the West Bank into a full-fledged university.
The non-binding move sponsored by Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar was made Sunday at the regular Cabinet meeting.
"It is important that there be an additional university in Israel; it is important that there be a university in Ariel," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after the vote. "I love to break monopolies and cartels in every field, and this one of them. I do not think that it is sufficient that the State of Israel has seven universities; another university has not been added in 40 years.
"Ariel is an inseparable part of the State of Israel and it will remain an inseparable part of the State of Israel in any future agreement, just like the other settlement blocs."
The final authorization for making the Ariel center a university must be made by the Israel Defense Forces’ central commander in the West Bank, Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon, who reportedly has not yet signed the go-ahead at the instruction of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who last week recommended in a letter to Netanyahu delaying the decision until after the Israeli Supreme Court rules on the matter.
In July, the Ariel center was recognized as a full university by the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria, which was established in 1997 after the Council for Higher Education refused to discuss academic issues concerning the West Bank.
The Judea and Samaria council’s 11-2 vote came despite a recommendation against approval by the planning and budget committee of the Council for Higher Education, as well as opposition from the country’s other seven universities and public figures who objected to upgrading a college in the West Bank.
Last month, the presidents of Israel’s seven universities filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court to reverse the decision, claiming that the decision-making process was flawed and that the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria did not have the authority to make a decision that crosses the boundaries of the West Bank and affects all of Israeli higher education, according to reports. The lawsuit also says that the establishment of another full university in Israel will harm higher education in the country.
The lawsuit was filed against the Israeli military commander in the West Bank, the government, the ministers of defense and education, the Higher Education Council and the center itself. The center has more than 10,000 students, Jewish and Arab. Some 15 percent of the college’s students live in the West Bank.
A week after the lawsuit was filed, Bar-Ilan University President Professor Moshe Kaveh withdrew his signature.
In 2007, the Ariel academic center was granted temporary recognition as a so-called university center, and to reexamine its status within five years. Ariel, with a population of about 20,000, is located southwest of the Palestinian city of Nablus.