JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's council of higher education voted Wednesday not to grant a West Bank college coveted university status, vetoing a move that could have triggered international condemnations and enraged the Palestinians.
Sharon Achdut, the council's spokesman, said five out of seven members of the committee voted against upgrading the status of the college in Ariel, one of the largest Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
The council cited academic, not political, reasons for its decision. It said there was no justification for another university in Israel when others were already suffering from a shortage in faculty and research infrastructure.
The ruling marked a setback for nationalist settlers, who had hoped university recognition would have given them further legitimacy and a stronger sense of permanence in the West Bank.
Palestinians consider the West Bank to be part of their future state. Most of the international community agrees and considers Israel's West Bank settlements illegal and an obstacle to peace.
Proponents of the upgrade said it would have marked a crowning jewel of the government's commitment to holding the West Bank, the heartland of biblical Judaism, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war.
Opponents feared it would politicize Israel's vaunted higher education system and perhaps jeopardize international funding, staff and research exchanges. The specter of an international boycott also loomed.
Some 19,000 Jewish settlers reside in Ariel. Positioned deep in the West Bank, its removal is seen by pro-Palestinian activists as essential to the viability of a future Palestinian state, since annexing it to Israel would also take a significant wedge of land with it to connect with Israel proper.
The Ariel institution has operated for 30 years in some form, ultimately growing into a college of some 12,500 students. It is open to all Israeli citizens, including Arabs. But like other Israeli universities, it is closed to the 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank.
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