Israel's Creeping Annexation: Knesset Votes to Extend Israeli Law to Academic Institutions in the West Bank

Law might break agreements Israel has made with the EU to maintain a separation between academic institutions in the West Bank and those in Israel proper

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ariel University medical school corner laying ceremony
Chaim Tzach / Government Press O

The Knesset approved on Monday night the final version of the law applying Israeli law to academic institutions in the West Bank, with the bill passing its second and third readings.

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The legislation, which was expedited with the support of Education Ministry Naftali Bennett, is one of a series of laws designed to enact creeping annexation of the territories in the West Bank and apply Israeli law in the settlements. In addition to the coalition, the Yesh Atid party also voted for the law.

It was passed with 56 in favor of the law and 36 against. 

The new law seeks to abolish the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria and bring the academic institutions in the territories under the aegis of the Council for Higher Education in Israel.

>> White House Strongly Denies as 'False' Netanyahu's Claims of Talks With U.S. on Annexing West Bank Settlements <<

MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi), who initiated the legislation said last month: “Alongside the academic importance of the law, there is a clear element here of applying sovereignty and I’m proud of both of these things.”

Figures in the academic world have warned that the law could hurt the status of Israeli academic institutions and expand the boycott against it by opponents of the settlements. The law might break agreements Israel has made with the European Union to maintain a separation between academic institutions over the pre-1967 border and those in Israel proper. Such violations could mean Israel would be removed from the scientific cooperation project Horizon 2020. These implications have not so far been discussed in the Knesset Education Committee.

The Council for Higher Education in Israel has come out in favor of the law, although the subject was not discussed by the members. A representative of the council, attorney Nadav Shamir, told the Knesset Education Committee last month that the council’s support of the law stemmed from its regulatory advantages. “The situation today in which there is an Israel council and a Judea and Samaria council impairs our national planning. What interests the council is the academic level, and from a regulatory, professional point of view we are in favor of the law.”

One of the reasons the law was passed is the increased legal difficulties in establishing a medical faculty at Ariel University in the West Bank. The problem is in clinical training for the students, which the faculty would like to see carried out in a hospital in pre-1967 Israel. “Clinical training earns academic credits and these credits must be given by an Israeli academic institution or an institution abroad, and Ariel is neither,” the representative of the Council for Higher Education in Israel told the Knesset committee. Bringing Ariel University under the auspices of the council in Israel would remove this obstacle.

The current law relating to the Council for Higher Education in Israel does not cover academic institution in the West Bank. It was therefore decided in the early 1990s to establish a separate council for the West Bank so that degree programs at what was then Ariel College, could be approved.

Bennett stressed that the reasoning behind the extension was to allow establish a medical school in Ariel to counter Israel's severe lack of doctors.

MK Yousef Jabreen (Joint List) said that the "policy of annexation has shifted from creeping to running." He said that the extension of law is a violation in that it undermines the status of Israeli academia by linking it to occupation and the politicization of higher education while undermining the two-state solution based on the 1967 border.

"By nature, academia promotes values of peace, democracy and tolerance. These values can't exist in the shadow of a military occupation," he said.

On Sunday, Netanyahu blocked the advance of a bill to apply Israeli sovereignty to the settlements. The bill did not mention annexation of the West Bank, instead only referring to the settlements. The forum of coalition party leaders, which convened to decide whether to support the bill, unanimously agreed to postpone the debate because of the recent flare-up in the north. 

According to Netanyahu, Israel has to avoid steps liable to embarrass the United States so as to reach understandings with the international community. In an interview with the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom newspaper published on Sunday, Trump expressed his doubts that Israel and the Palestinians are committed to reaching peace.

"Right now, I would say the Palestinians are not looking to make peace, they are not looking to make peace. And I am not necessarily sure that Israel is looking to make peace," Trump said. He added that the settlements "always have complicated making peace," and warned that "Israel has to be very careful with the settlements." 

Netanyahu has used these arguments several times over the past few months in order to postpone various bills relating to annexing territories, among them the bill to annex Ma’aleh Adumim and a bill that would bring the settlements surrounding Jerusalem under the city’s jurisdiction.