A new college in the Galilee, sponsored by the Catholic Church and other Christian groups, is to come up for approval before the Council of Higher Education in two weeks. Education Minister Yuli Tamir is working to promote the establishment of the college, which will have Jewish, Christian and Muslim lecturers and students.

In 2000, the cabinet decided to establish an Arab college in the Galilee. However, the plan was frozen two years ago by the Knesset Education Committee after MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) said it would "become a nest for terrorists." Several Arab institutions in the Galilee currently train teachers and engineers.

According to the proposal presented to the council, Mar Elias College, a private institution that until recently was a branch of Indianapolis University, would serve as the basis for the new Galilee college. Founded five years ago by Archbishop Elias Shakur, head of the Greek Catholic Church in Israel, it is located in the Galilee village of Iblin and has about 200 students. After the college is recognized, its departments will include chemistry, computer science and occupational therapy. The communications studies faculty will be headed by professor of cinema, Judd Ne'eman, who this week was named an Israel Prize laureate. Prof. Ya'akov Katriel of the Technion, a radical left-wing activist, will head the chemistry department. The languages of instruction will be Hebrew and Arabic.

Nazareth and Taibeh have also expressed an interest in being home to the new college, although the request to the Council states that the new college will be located in Iblin, the site of the Mar Elias campus.

"We agreed to support the college and give it a place in Nazareth. It would be called the College of Nazareth and the Galilee," Nazareth mayor Ramez Jaraisy told Haaretz. Jaraisy also said it was important that the college not be identified with one particular religious group. Other political leaders in the Arab community reportedly oppose the college out of concern that it will serve the Christian minority and prevent the establishment of a more comprehensive institution.

Sources in the Higher Education Council said elements in the Arab community were "using every possible legitimate means" to delay approval of the college.

Mar Elias' vice president, Dr. Raed Mualem, said: "The Catholic Church and Archbishop Shakur had been the ones to support the college so far, but in the future it will be a multicultural college open to all Abrahamic faiths."

Mualem also said the college would start out as a private institution but in the future would require public funding. "It should be national project that provides equal opportunity to Arab students in the Galilee," Mualem added.

Shakur and the college's other planners reportedly hope Pope Benedict XVI will lay the cornerstone of the college during his expected visit to Israel in May.

Calling the college a "breakthrough," Tamir told Haaretz Mar Elias had gone through the necessary procedures to be recognized as an independent institution.