The Knesset Education, Sports and Culture Committee approved on Wednesday, January 24, the first reading of a bill that would grant the Council for Higher Education authority over higher “academic” institutions located in Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). The bill was initiated by committee chairman MK Ya’acov Margi (Shas) and MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (HaBayit HaYehudi). It passed by a vote of nine to five.
The explanatory notes to the bill state that the Council for Higher Education, responsible for overseeing higher education in Israel, “is unable to exercise its statutory powers in areas where the law and administration of the state have not been applied, including in Judea and Samaria.” This anomaly has led to the creation of a parallel legal system, led by military officers, dealing with the regulation of higher education in the territories.The purpose of the proposed bill is to resolve this oddity in a move that is another transparent manifestation of Israel’s “creeping annexation” of the occupied territories.
Relating to precisely this aspect of the bill during the committee session, MK Youssef Atawne (Joint List – Hadash) said that it “represents a clear, unhidden agenda. A project like this lends legitimacy for continued control and occupation. Control of the Palestinian people does not serve us… There is a dangerous ideology behind the bill that goes hand in hand with the last meeting of the Likud central committee’s proposal to apply Israeli law in the occupied territories… We vigorously oppose the situation that exists because the occupation must end… There is a Palestinian people that has the right to an independent state.”
However, another committee member, MK Meir Cohen of the “opposition” Yesh Atid party, said he would support the bill because the settlement of Ariel “is part of Israel and will remain so in any peace deal.” Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid was the only opposition party that supported the bill.
Following the committee vote, far-right Education Minister Naftali Bennett thanked the Yesh Atid member who voted for the bill and said that this support was “not to be taken for granted.” Bennett tweeted: “I praise the member of the opposition who supported the bill which places the institutions of higher education in Judea and Samaria under the Council for Higher Education. This will advance Ariel University.”
Former Labor MK Manuel Trajtenberg, a former head of the council’s planning and budgeting committee, told Haaretz that the bill would violate Israel’s agreements with the European Union on preserving a separation between academic institutions in Israel and the occupied West Bank. This could cause the EU to remove Israel from the Horizon 2020 scientific research program worth hundreds of millions of euros. “To sacrifice Israeli science and research on the altar of applying Israeli law to settlements would be a disastrous result,” said Trajtenberg.