Israel will soon have a fully fledged university operating from a West Bank settlement, the cabinet decided yesterday, despite opposition from groups that say it is a manoeuvre to strengthen Israel's presence in the territory that Palestinians claim as their future state.
The Education Minister, Gideon Saar, pushed through the controversial proposal to upgrade the Ariel University Centre of Samaria, a higher education college near Nablus, to full university status, defying the opposition of the top higher education official and the heads of six of Israel's seven research universities who have lodged an appeal against the move with the high court.
"I firmly believe that the establishment of an eighth university will enhance the higher education system in Israel," Mr Saar told the cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. "Forty years have passed since the last research university was established in Israel and since then the population has increased almost threefold."
The college, founded in 1982 as a regional branch of Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv, is the only Israeli institution of higher education in the occupied West Bank, apart from two teacher-training colleges. It became independent in 2004 and has sought university status ever since.
Many education officials warned that the international repercussions could be disastrous for Israeli universities already threatened by a small but vociferous academic boycott campaign. In a letter to the government, the heads of Israel's universities described the move as "a mortal blow to the higher education system in Israel".