The cabinet on Sunday approved a non-binding measure to upgrade the status of
the Ariel University Center of Samaria, located in the West Bank, to that of a
full-fledged university, even though a petition to block the matter is pending
before the High Court of Justice.
The decision to establish Ariel
University also came despite Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s request last week
that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wait to bring the issue to the cabinet
until after the High Court’s ruling.
Netanyahu told the weekly cabinet
meeting it was important that there be another university in Israel, and it was
important that it was located in Ariel.
“Ariel is an integral part of the
State of Israel and it will remain an integral part of Israel in any future
arrangement, like the rest of the settlement blocs,” he said.
made similar comments about Gush Etzion when he visited Efrat on the first day
of school on August 27.
Netanyahu said that establishing a university in
Ariel was one of a number of actions the government was taking to strengthen
higher education in Israel, and “this decision gives voice to our confidence in
the academic level in Ariel.”
At the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu spoke
against the Council of Higher Education’s longstanding failure to accredit
universities in Israel, including the one in Ariel. The council had not
accredited a university since 1974, when the Open University was
“I love to break monopolies and cartels in every sphere, and this is one of the spheres,” Netanyahu said in reference to
the opposition of the heads of the other universities in the country to the
The prime minister, who noted that an additional university had not
been established in the country for almost 40 years, said he did not think seven
universities were enough for the country.
After the vote, Education
Minister Gideon Sa’ar (Likud) noted that the population had grown three-fold in
the past four decades.
“I firmly believe that the establishment of an
eighth university will enhance Israel’s higher education system,” he
Israel’s education system must evolve to meet the needs of advanced
study in Israel, he said.
Late last month the presidents of the country’s
other universities, with the exception of Bar- Ilan, turned to the High Court to
overturn a decision by the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria to
grant the Ariel school university status.
The petitioners argued that the
decision had been unreasonable according to any relevant criteria and had been
made by the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria, a body with no
jurisdiction in the matter.
The cabinet decision contradicted the
position of the Council of Higher Education of Israel.
They argued that
the decision would have a detrimental impact, both academically and in terms of
budgets, on the country’s other universities.
Since Ariel is over the
Green Line, under the IDF’s authority, the signature of OC Central Command
Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon will be needed to make the change of status
Sunday’s governmental declaration is significant in that it
indicates government policy, but it is not considered an order to Nitzan to
change the university’s status.
It is assumed that the High Court will
have the final word on the matter.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak abstained
from the cabinet vote, as did Agriculture Minister Orit Noked, both of the
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, whose Yisrael
Beytenu Party has been a major proponent of the move, praised the cabinet
“All attempts to thwart the move, for either ideological or
other reasons, will not succeed,” he said. “There is room for the establishment
of another university, and there is room to place it in Ariel.”
Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) said that Ariel deserved to become a university,
after 30 years of work on establishing one in Samaria for both ideological and
“Ariel University, or the Ariel University Center,
is a combination of ideology of settling the land with Jews in the Land of
Israel, especially in strategic areas from which we cannot retreat, and also a
matter of values, and of education,” Rivlin said in an interview with Israel
The Knesset speaker added that in his opinion, opposition to
establishing a university in Ariel stemmed from political reasons, and not just
Coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) praised the
government for authorizing Ariel’s transition to a university, which he said,
“does academic and moral justice to an institution that reached all the
“The decision relays the important message that
Ariel will always remain a part of the State of Israel,” Elkin added.
Alex Miller (Yisrael Beytenu), co-chairman of the Knesset Caucus to turn Ariel
into a University, said the move was necessary in order to strengthen
settlements in Judea and Samaria and to enhance Israel’s academic
“This is another small but significant step and I have no doubt
that Ariel University will soon be established,” Miller said.
political interests that motivated some of the people involved in this issue
have been pushed aside in favor of strengthening the academic world and stopping
the brain drain from the State of Israel.”
Politicians on the Left
criticized the decision to allow the Ariel University Center to become a
“Once again, it has been proven that the real owners of the
Netanyahu government and the Likud are those who want to promote settlements,”
MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) said.
“Despite the opposition of
professionals that said there is no need for another research university, the
government decided to establish one.”
If Netanyahu was motivated by a
desire to make higher education more accessible, Plesner asked, why didn’t the
government establish a university in the Negev or the Galilee.
MK added that he hoped there would be early elections and that the government’s
“unnecessary” decision would not be implemented.
MK Nitzan Horowitz
(Meretz) said the cabinet decision indicated that settlers were Netanyahu’s
“The prime minister and his ministers go out of their way to
satisfy settler and ultra-Orthodox wheeler-dealers, and allocating huge
percentages of the budget to them, while the rest of the public suffers,”
The Hadash party criticized the government’s decision “to
recognize the settlement of Ariel as a university on occupied land, to which the
State of Israel has no right.”
The party called for the government to
invest in higher education for the weaker sectors of society, and suggested that
Netanyahu should build a university in Nazareth instead of Samaria.
university in Ariel does not change the fact that no academic institutions will
cooperate with it,” MK Hanna Swaid (Hadash) said. “It would be better if the
government was concerned with needs of young people, especially those from the
periphery, and not pressure from coalition partners.”
Yonah Jeremy Bob
and Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.