Hague warns of cost to academic ties as Israel backs West Bank college upgrade

William Hague

William Hague

The British government has responded furiously to a decision by an Israeli committee to agree to grant university status to a college in the West Bank and called for the move to be reconsidered.

In strongly worded remarks after the Israeli cabinet approved the move to upgrade Ariel College, Foreign Secretary William Hague expressed his disappointment at the creation of "an additional barrier to peace with the Palestinians".

He said that if the upgrade, which is still subject to approval by the High Court of Justice and the Attorney General, went ahead, "this would lead to the creation of Israel's first university beyond the Green Line, in a settlement illegal under international law".

Mr Hague added: "This move is particularly regrettable because it comes at a time of rapidly expanding co-operation between UK 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. I call on the government of Israel to reconsider its approach as a matter of urgency."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of the decision: "Establishing a university in Ariel is part of a series of actions we are taking to strengthen higher education in Israel," The cabinet vote was almost unanimous, although Defence Minister Ehud Barak voted against it, but the Council of Presidents of Israeli Universities criticised it as a political move "that serves coalition and political interests and is bound to spell disaster for higher education in Israel".

Mr Hague's condemnation of the decision came as it emerged in a Ha'aretz report that the British government had dispatched a high-ranking envoy to Israel in the last two weeks to warn Mr Netanyahu against a unilateral strike on Iran to stem the nuclear threat.

Last updated: 10:22am, September 11 2012