Photo: GPO, Flash90

US ends ban on disputed Israeli lands

The Trump administration has lifted a decades-old ban that had prohibited U.S. taxpayer funding for Israeli scientific research conducted on lands in the West Bank and Golan Heights captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War.

At a ceremony in the West Bank city of Ariel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman revised three agreements reached between 1972 and 1977, and also signed a new bilateral scientific and technology accord – reversing policy biased against Israeli settlements by previous U.S. administrations.

Stricken from the Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation (BIRD), Binational Science Foundation (BSF) and the Binational Agricultural Research and Development Foundation (BARD) pacts was the following phrase: “The cooperative projects sponsored by the foundation may not be conducted in geographic areas which came under the administration of the government of the State of Israel after June 5, 1967, and may not relate to subjects pertinent to such areas.”

“The Trump vision … opens Judea and Samaria to academic, commercial and scientific engagement with the United States,” Netanyahu said, using biblical names for West Bank territory, adding that, “This is an important victory against all those who seek to delegitimize everything Israeli beyond the 1967 lines.”

The Israeli leader went on to express deep appreciation of the U.S. Administration under President Donald Trump – which stirred a paradigm shift throughout the Middle East. “By rejecting the failed mantras of the past the Trump plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace not only offers possibilities for a realistic and secure solution – if the Palestinians ever come around to changing, to abandoning their absurd demands that would mean the end of Israel.”

In a message directed at detractors of the Jewish State, Netanyahu then underscored: “And to those malevolent boycotters I have a simple message today: You are wrong and you will fail! You are wrong become you deny what cannot be denied, the millennial connection between the people of Israel and the land of Israel. It is over 3000 years old. And you will fail because we are resolved to continue to build our life in our ancestral homeland and to never be uprooted from here again.”

In formally eliminating the geographic restrictions in the agreements, Amb. Friedman said, “We are righting an old wrong. And strengthening yet again the unbreakable bond between our two countries.”

“We are depoliticizing a process that should never have been political in the first place,” he added.

Earlier this year, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Trump administration supported Israel’s right to build Jewish homes in the West Bank by rejecting criticism that such construction was “inconsistent with international law.”

Ambassador Friedman also addressed Washington’s recent peace initiative that has normalized relations between Israel with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. “In the spirit of the Abraham accords, we place great value on academic, cultural, commercial and diplomatic engagement as the best path to peace; whether between Israel and its neighboring states, or between Israel and the Palestinians,” he stated.

Palestinians, who seek the West Bank for a future state, widely condemned the development, accusing Washington of complicity in what they term as Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise.

A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said lifting of the funding ban represented “American participation in the occupation of Palestinian lands.”

Member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Wassel Abu Yousef said that it was “very clear” that “the American stance is against the rights of the Palestinian people,” particularly as the signing ceremony was held in Ariel, which he called a “settlement… “built on Palestinian occupied land.” He added, “it is an attempt to impose the law of the jungle as an alternative to all the decisions of international conventions and international law,” alleging that “the occupation is now trying to benefit from the American-Zionist cooperation that supports it, and it is also trying to benefit from the official Arab normalization which provides more power to the occupation and increases criminal aggression at the expense of Arabs and the Palestinian cause.”