A week ago the school year began with customary declarations of commitment to education from leaders across the political spectrum. The founding of a new university should be a similar rallying point for unified educational enthusiasm. Yet, absurdly, the upgrading of Ariel University Center to a fully-fledged university remains stalled in the hands of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, despite the backing of the education minister, the finance minister and various other government bodies.

Barak’s foot-dragging has nothing to do with academic standards and everything to do with politics. Not only does his procrastination stand in the way of a university degree for thousands of students, it is also a stance which endangers our very security.

Ariel University Center (as it has been known since 2007) has met the academic criteria required to upgrade its status to that of a university. It is already a member of the International Association of Universities, university accreditation has been approved by the Education Ministry and the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria, and this decision was ratified by Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein.

Yet rather than embrace Ariel in the spirit of academic camaraderie, the heads of Israel’s existing universities have launched an appeal to the Supreme Court. In doing so, they have chosen a skewed political agenda which opposes all development in Judea and Samaria, rather than throw their weight behind the pursuit of academic excellence as you might expect.

It is telling that the president of Bar-Ilan University, Prof. Moshe Kaveh, withdrew his support for the legal maneuver. Although Kaveh still has concerns over the potential budgetary impact of an additional university, he sensibly found no other reason to oppose the upgrade, especially through such extreme legal measures.

And yet, although this dispute falls far outside of his jurisdiction, Defense Minister Barak has taken center stage, requesting that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wait for the High Court appeal verdict before making a final decision on Ariel’s university status.

Barak’s very involvement and the hold-up that he has orchestrated has nothing to do with education but is instead, like the opposition of university heads, rooted in Ariel’s location across the so-called Green Line. As defense minister, Barak technically has the final word on any such decision in an area under the control of the IDF.

However, as a cynical leader motivated by misguided policies and personal political gain, Barak also understands that sanctioning the first university in Judea and Samaria would be popular in some quarters and resented in others.

There is little doubt that a university in Ariel would benefit all our citizens – with a diverse student body of 14,000 students, just 15 percent live in Judea and Samaria, while 600 are Arab-Israelis, making Ariel an elite education hub for the entire country.

However, rather than consider the public good and simply rubber-stamp Ariel University, Barak is stalling to see which way the political winds will blow.

Not only is Barak’s hesitancy a betrayal of educational excellence in favor of miscalculated political expediency, it also casts dangerous doubts over what has previously been a consensus with regard to Ariel itself. The city of almost 20,000 residents has long been thought of as one of the “settlement blocs” which leaders on both the Left and Right have argued would remain part of Israel in the event of an agreement with the Palestinians. Indeed, Barak himself has previously argued that “the settlement blocs are an inseparable part of Israel in all future negotiations with the Palestinians.”

He himself has authorized building in Ariel and argued for the city to be annexed by Israel at the Camp David negotiations. But Barak’s current malice sends a dangerous message of doubt to the world, indicating a governmental schism over the status of Ariel itself. It would be remarkably foolish to think that the international community will divorce the standing of Ariel’s nascent university from the city itself. And when it comes to Ariel, uncertainty is unaffordable.

Situated high above the Sharon plain and the Dan region, Ariel enjoys a perfect vantage point overlooking key infrastructure including Ben-Gurion Airport, the Hadera power station and the military’s headquarters in Tel Aviv. Ariel is simply indispensable to our security, something which Barak of all people should be acutely aware of.

Yet, even when it comes to security, our defense minister is prepared to trade it in for cheap political gain.

While Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz are busy making the kind of commitment to higher education that our country needs by delivering a new university, Barak stands as an obstacle in their way. Brushing aside the public’s educational needs and the very security considerations that he claims to hold dear, the delay over Ariel represents perhaps the lowest point in Ehud Barak’s self-centered career.

Ari Harow served as bureau chief to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and is currently president of 3H Global.

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