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Israel's controversial expansion of Ariel University in West Bank

Upgrading Israel's Ariel University Center to a university will bolster plans to expand the campus in the Jewish settlement. The far-right Yisrael Beitenu party hailed the move.

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Israel’s Defense Ministry has given a green light to expand a college in the West Bank, a move aimed at strengthening Israeli ties to a settlement located deep within territory that Palestinians claim as part of a future state.

Upgrading the status of the "Ariel University Center" would promote an ambitious plan to expand the campus and student body of 11,000. Some 18,000 mostly secular Israelis live in Ariel, a sprawling bedroom community located 12 miles east of the 1967 Green Line.

The decision could add another point of friction with the Obama administration, which pushed Israel to adopt a 10-month freeze in new settlement construction last year.

"An Israeli university in the West Bank is a political statement that, 'We are here, and we are going to stay here,' " says Assaf Meydani, a lecturer at the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Jaffa’s school of government.

"It's saying, 'We are not afraid to say that we have a university in Judea and Samaria,' " he adds, using the biblical terms for the West Bank.

Ariel is the fourth-largest Jewish settlement in the West Bank. Many Israelis consider it one of several so-called population blocs slated for future annexation; critics say such a move would effectively bisect a Palestinian state.

Established in the mid-1990s

 The Ariel college, or AUC, was established with a few hundred students in the mid-1990s, and today draws the vast majority of its students from inside Israel proper. Its leadership has ties to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party. The decision would make it the ninth university in Israel.

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