U.K. 'Deeply Disappointed' by Israel's Upgrade of West Bank College

Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt says recognition of Ariel college as an accredited Israeli university 'will create another obstacle to peace.'

British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt condemned on Thursday Israel's decision to recognize Ariel University Center in the West Bank as an accredited university, saying that it is against international law. 

Israel's attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, ruled on Monday that there was no reason to prevent Ariel, an Israeli institution in the West Bank, from being  accredited. This was the final step necessary for accrediting the college, making it the first Israeli institution of higher learning in the West Bank to receive such a title. Weinstein's decision on the matter comes after years of debate.

The British minister said in a statement that the U.K. is "deeply disappointed in the decision to upgrade Ariel’s University Center."

Burt said in his statement that "Ariel is beyond the Green Line in a settlement that is illegal according to international law," adding that "this decision will deepen the presence of the settlements in the Palestinian territories and will create another obstacle to peace."

The British government has repeatedly expressed its condemnation of the Netanyahu government's recent settlement construction push. "We reiterate our call on Israel urgently to reverse these decisions and take no further steps aimed at expanding or entrenching settlement activity," Burt said.

The statement also addressed the Jerusalem District Planning Board recently issuing approval of a plan for 1,000 housing units in Jerusalem's Gilo neighborhood, among more than 5,000 new settler homes in East Jerusalem that Israel pressed ahead over the past weeks. Palestinians do not recognize Israel's 1967 annexation of the territory and say any Israeli construction there undermines their claims to it. The international community has not recognized Israel's 1967 annexation of East Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a settlement construction push to punish the Palestinians after the United Nations recognized a de facto Palestinian state in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip last month. Israel says the Palestinians can achieve a state only through negotiations with the Israeli government, and regards the UN bid as a maneuver to sidestep talks.

Burt said that approval of plans for settlement construction "are further profoundly provocative actions that run contrary to the Fourth Geneva Convention. "

"By taking these steps,despite the international community repeatedly raising our profound concerns," he said, "The Israeli Government is damaging Israel’s international reputation."

Burt went on to say that these developments "deepen our worry for the region at such a crucial time, and demonstrate why we are convinced of the urgency for more positive indicators of change."

As such, the British minister said, the U.K. continues to call on "President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu to show the strong leadership needed to achieve a return to negotiations for a two-state solution, which will bring a just and permanent solution to this conflict. We repeat our hope that 2013 will be the ‘year of peace’ for Palestinians, Israelis and all people of the region."