Israel establishes first university in occupied West Bank

JERUSALEM Mon Dec 24, 2012 10:03pm GMT

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel upgraded a college in a West Bank Jewish settlement to a university on Monday, reflecting a determination to keep control of the enclave in any peace deal with the Palestinians.

The decision gives the Ariel campus, established in 1982 near the city of Nablus, the same status as universities inside Israel. It comes after Israel announced plans to expand other settlements on occupied land, drawing protest from European governments and the United States.

"For the first time in decades, Israel has a new university," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in a statement.

Final approval came from military chiefs, who formalized a cabinet decision in September. Their decision was delayed while experts examined legal challenges from other universities that opposed the upgrade.

Some Israeli university heads argued that public funding for the new university would come at their expense.

The Palestinian Higher Education Office also condemned the decision and urged universities worldwide to boycott the institution.

Most world powers see Israeli settlements on land that Palestinians seek for a state as illegal and an obstacle to peace.

European nations and Washington have criticized Netanyahu's plans to build as many as 6,000 more settlement homes, announced since a November 29 United Nations vote gave Palestinians effective recognition as a state and angered Israel.

European governments have summoned Israeli ambassadors to protest at the expansion of settlements, particularly those established on captured land that Israel annexed to Jerusalem in a move that was never recognized internationally.

Israel has signaled it intends to retain control of several larger settlement blocs such as Ariel under any future pact, while the fates of other enclaves may be negotiated.

(Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

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