Five years after the Israeli government decided to declare Ariel College, which is located in the West Bank, a recognized university, Ynet learned that the defense minister has agreed to implement the decision that was part of the political clashes within the coalition.
One of the articles of the coalition agreement between Yisrael Beiteinu and Likud stipulates that Ariel College be recognized as a university. A meeting was held on the matter two months ago between Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak during which it was agreed that the latter would promote the issue as part of his jurisdiction over the West Bank.
Yisrael Beiteinu claimed that Barak was holding up the process and did not instruct the military to sign the necessary authorization. They even threatened that "as long as the Labor Party does not honor the agreements it is signed on, all parliamentary activity on its behalf will be met by total opposition of 15 members of Knesset," according to statements made by Yisrael Beiteinu Faction Chairman Robert Ilatov.
At long last, it seems as though the pressure paid off. In the upcoming days, legal advisors in the government ministries will examine all aspects regarding the issue, after which the move is expected to come to fruition.
MK Alex Miller, who serves as chairman of the Student Union in the Knesset and lives in Ariel, praised the decision which, according to him, will strengthen Jewish settlement of the West Bank. "The government gave an important shot of encouragement today to the Jewish settlement in Samaria and to academia in Israel."
"This decision will not only expand access to higher education, but it also shows that despite its sensitivity location, the academic achievements in Ariel fulfills the strict criteria necessary to become a university, to lead in excellence, and make academic achievements," he said.
In the past, former Education Minister Limor Livnat supported the change, and the Sharon government gave the plan the go ahead in accordance with recommendations of the Altshuler Commission. However, subsequently Education Minister Yuli Tamir delayed implementation of the move because she served as the chairwoman of the Council for Higher Education.
The current education minister, Gideon Sa'ar (Likud), has sided with Livnat, his fellow party member. "The process of recognizing Ariel College as a university center must be completed," he said recently.
The University Center in Ariel has been investing efforts for a number of years to make the college into a university, however encountered difficulties because of its location beyond the Green Line. This made any change in its status dependent on the signature of the sovereign in the West Bank.
To this end, a body parallel to the Council for Higher Education was formed to oversee Israeli higher education activities in the West Bank. The Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria authorized transforming the college into a university, a move the original council vehemently opposed.
There are currently seven research universities in Israel. Another Israeli university, the Open University is not a research university. A debate will likely be waged whether Ariel will be considered the eighth research university in Israel, or whether it will be defined as a research university outside the Green Line.
Attila Somfalvi contributed to this report