The decision by Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak to back what has been dubbed a "University for the Sciences of Occupation" has been sharply criticised by the head of the leftist Meretz Party. Zahava Gal-On said that the plan to convert the university centre in the illegal settlement of Ariel near Nablus in the occupied West Bank to full university status has been done "for political reasons".
Gal-On told Israel Radio on Tuesday, "The fact that Barak decided to adopt this plan and give recognition to the university for the 'sciences' of continued occupation and destruction of democracy is a wasteful political decision designed to help [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu in the election."
Ariel University Centre was established in 1982 and will become the first university to be established by illegal settlers in the occupied West Bank.
Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar welcomed his cabinet colleague's decision to approve university status to the Ariel Centre, saying that such a decision would contribute to the promotion of diversity and increase competition within the Israeli higher education sector. He noted that in the past forty years no new university has been established in Israel, although the population has tripled.
"We are happy to see that those involved were not derailed by baseless claims made by people with foreign interests," Sa'ar said, referring to a petition filed by the heads other Israeli universities at the Israeli Supreme Court against Barak's decision.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein upheld the so-called "Judea and Samaria" Higher Education Council's decision to upgrade Ariel, a move which has been welcomed by Netanyahu. "After many decades the state of Israel finally has another university. This is a big day for higher education in Israel," said the Prime Minister.
Barak's decision comes at a time of intensified Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem by the Netanyahu government in the run-up to the general election next month.