West Bank Colleges to Be Included Under Israeli Law in New Bill

Critics of the bill sponsored by Habayit Hayehudi an attempt at creeping annexation of West Bank settlements ■ The bill was approved for vote by Knesset committee Sunday

File photo: A student in the library of Ariel University in the West Bank.
REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

A bill that would impose Israeli law on Israeli institutions of higher education in West Bank settlements received the backing of the government on Sunday.

The bill, sponsored by the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party, would eliminate the Council for Higher Education in the West Bank and subsume institutions of higher education in settlements into the Council for Higher Education in Israel.

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After receiving a green light from the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, the bill is sent for three rounds of voting in the Knesset.

Figures in the centrist coalition party Kulanu, speaking off the record, said they didn’t think their party would oppose the bill.

A senior figure in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, thought the bill would probably be shelved, as was a draft law on Jerusalem that was scheduled for a vote Monday. Both bills come amid increasing tension with the Palestinians after U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital Wednesday.

The bill would require the Council for Higher Education in Israel to automatically recognize all West Bank Israeli higher education institutions.

The separate agency for the West Bank council was established in the 1990s as a way to get around legal obstacles to the accreditation of Ariel University (formerly the Ariel University of Samaria, the school was established in 1982 as the College of Judea & Samaria, as a branch of Bar-Ilan University in the settlement of Ariel).

The West Bank council also oversees Orot Israel College, in Elkana, and the Herzog Academic College in Alon Shvut.

The legislation was sponsored by MKs Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi) and Yakov Margi (Shas).

The proposed legislation is one of a series of bills that Habayit Hayehudi and other coalition parties are promoting and that critics call “creeping annexation” of the settlements by applying Israeli law there. The settlements are not currently considered sovereign Israeli territory.

Officials in Israeli higher education have also cautioned that such legislation could hurt the standing of higher education within Israel proper and encourage international boycott efforts against Israeli universities and colleges by blurring the distinction between them and the institutions in the settlements.