Freeman/Netanyahu
© Israeli Government press office
US Ambassador David Freeman • Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu
October 27, 2020
In a move that has further legitimized Israel's illegal settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory, the US and Israel have expanded a number of existing scientific cooperation agreements to now include Israeli institutions in the occupied West Bank and the Golan Heights.

The new agreement, signed on Wednesday between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, amended three existing scientific cooperation agreements between the two countries.

According to the original agreements, which were created back in the 1970's, cooperative projects between the US and Israel "may not be conducted in geographical areas which came under the administration of the State of Israel after June 5, 1967, and may not relate to subjects primarily pertinent to such areas."

The new amendments will now for the first time allow US taxpayer money to be spent in Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.

The US Embassy in Israel said in a statement that amendment "further strengthens the special bilateral relationship" between the two countries, and that "these geographic restrictions are no longer consistent with U.S. policy."

The Trump administration broke with decades of US and international policy last year when it announced that the US would no longer consider Israeli settlements to be illegal.

Wednesday's signing ceremony took place in the mega settlement of Ariel, which lies in the heart of the occupied West Bank — the municipal boundaries of which contain several enclaves of privately owned Palestinian land that were seized by the Israeli state back in 1978, when the settlement was established.

Ariel is one of the largest settlements in the West Bank, and is home to some 20,000 Israeli settlers, and boasts a university, shopping center, industrial zone, hospital, and medical school.

Ariel University, where the signing ceremony took place, is the only Israeli institution of its kind in the West Bank, and unlike other Israeli universities, has been barred from receiving funds not only from the US, but from the EU and the German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development.

The university has been the subject of a number of academic boycotts by international and Israeli academics, in protest of ongoing settlement expansion and Israel's illegal occupation of the West Bank.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said Wednesday's events were a message to
"those malevolent boycotters," that "you are wrong and you will fail, because we are resolved to build our lives and our ancestral homeland and to never be uprooted from here again. This is an important victory over everyone who seeks to delegitimize anything Israeli over '67 lines."
Netanyahu added that the agreements being signed at Ariel University were of "huge significance."

Other Israeli politicians hailed the agreement as another step in the right direction towards Israel's plan for annexation in the West Bank, with Israeli higher education minister Zeev Elkin telling Axios reporter Barak Ravid that Wednesday's events were "a big achievement for Israel's sovereignty" in the West Bank and "another step towards international recognition of our rights" there.

Palestinian leaders and activists criticized the move as another attempt by the US administration to whitewash Israel's occupation, and further pave the way for Israel to illegally annex more Palestinian land.

Hanan Ashrawi, Executive Committee member of the PLO called the agreement a "blatant unlawful act," in a statement.
"Extending US funding to the occupied West Bank, including illegal Israeli settlements, is a clear recognition of Israel´s annexation of Palestinian territory. This upgrades the Trump administration's involvement in Israeli war crimes to active and willful participation."
Ashrawi criticized the timing of the agreement, which she said was "a mad rush" made in the eleventh hour to "provide Israel with deliverables before January 2021, including normalization, economic benefits, and endorsement of annexation."

The timing of the amendment, which was made just a week before the US elections, was criticized by many as an attempt to further as many of Trump and Netanyahu's policies in the region as possible, in the event that Trump is not reelected on November 3rd.
Critics pointed to reports that, while the charge for the amendment was led by Friedman, it was reportedly pushed heavily by American billionaire Sheldon Adelson who is a major donor to both Ariel University and President Donald Trump. Haaretz quoted sources as saying that Adelson "pressured the American administration to hold the ceremony ahead of the U.S. election on Tuesday."

In addition to the timing of the announcement, the amendment is significant not only for its essential recognition of Israeli annexation, but for the fact that because it was made as a diplomatic agreement, it cannot be unilaterally reversed by a subsequent American administration, should Trump lose the upcoming election.

Palestinians have also expressed concerns that the agreement could result in pressure on the EU — the source of the majority of foreign funding for Israel's scientific institutions — to follow suit. Hanan Ashrawi said:
"This must be a wake-up call to the European Union and individual European States. Instead of contemplating an upgrade in EU-Israeli cooperation as a reward for a blatant lie, the European Union must show moral and legal leadership and hold Israel accountable for its crimes."