Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned a symbolic decision by the Israeli Cabinet to change the status of the Ariel University Center in the West Bank into a full-fledged university.
Hague's statement Monday also hinted that Sunday's decision, which is non-binding, could affect academic cooperation between British and Israeli universities.
The final authorization for making the Ariel center a university must be made by the Israel Defense Forces' central commander in the West Bank, Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon, who reportedly has not yet signed the go-ahead at the instruction of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who earlier this month recommended in a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delaying the decision until after the Israeli Supreme Court rules on the matter.
"I call on the Government of Israel to reconsider its approach as a matter of urgency,” Hague said. He also said the upgrading of the Ariel institution "would further entrench the presence of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and create an additional barrier to peace with the Palestinians."
He called the approval "particularly regrettable because it comes at a time of rapidly expanding co-operation between U.K. and Israeli universities, and when the British Government has taken a firm stand against those who seek to undermine Israel’s legitimacy by boycotting educational and cultural institutions."
In July, the Ariel center was recognized as a full university by the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria, which was established in 1997 after the Council for Higher Education refused to discuss academic issues concerning the West Bank.
Last month, the presidents of Israel's seven universities filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court to reverse the decision, claiming that the decision-making process was flawed and that the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria did not have the authority to make a decision that crosses the boundaries of the West Bank and affects all of Israeli higher education, according to reports. The lawsuit also says that the establishment of another full university in Israel will harm higher education in the country.
The lawsuit was filed against the Israeli military commander in the West Bank, the government, the ministers of defense and education, the Higher Education Council and the center itself. The center has more than 10,000 students, Jewish and Arab. Some 15 percent of the college's students live in the West Bank.
A week after the lawsuit was filed, Bar-Ilan University President Professor Moshe Kaveh withdrew his signature.
In 2007, the Ariel academic center was granted temporary recognition as a so-called university center, and to reexamine its status within five years. Ariel, with a population of about 20,000, is located southwest of the Palestinian city of Nablus.