Oct 27, 2020 - World

U.S. policy shift will allow taxpayer funding for projects in West Bank settlements

Friedman (L) with Netanyahu. Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. and Israel will announce tomorrow that they are expanding three agreements on scientific cooperation to include Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Israeli and U.S. officials tell me.

Why it matters: This is a substantial policy shift for the U.S., which did not previously allow its taxpayers' money to be spent in the Israeli settlements.

The agreements will be signed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at the Ariel University in the West Bank.

  • They concern three joint U.S.-Israeli foundations for scientific cooperation, which invest government money into research and development projects.
  • When the agreements were first signed in the 1970s, they included a territorial clause stating that funding would only go to projects inside Israel's 1967 lines. That clause has been deleted from the amended agreements.

Behind the scenes: This policy shift was driven by Friedman, Israeli officials say. He intended it as a gesture to Netanyahu and to Israeli settlers after Netanyahu's vow to annex parts of the West Bank was taken off the table as part of Israel's normalization deal with the UAE.

What they're saying: An Israeli official told me this move is a signal of U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank.

  • I asked Friedman about that claim and he denied it, saying the deal was only meant to enhance scientific cooperation.
  • But Israeli higher education minister Zeev Elkin had a different view. He tweeted that the deal was "a big achievement for Israel’s sovereignty" in the West Bank and "another step towards international recognition of our rights" there.
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