US lifts funding ban on Israeli research in West Bank, Golan

Jerusalem (AFP) –

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The United States on Wednesday removed restrictions on funding for Israeli research in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights, scrapping a policy in place since the 1970s.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the "huge significance" of the move that came less than a week before the US presidential election.

President Donald Trump, who Netanyahu has hailed as Israel's strongest ever ally in the White House, has recognised Israeli sovereignty in the Golan and not criticised Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank.

Trump's challenger, former vice president Joe Biden, has broadly backed an international community consensus that Jewish settlements in the West Bank are illegal.

Through the 1970s, the US established three funding agreements for Israeli scientific foundations.

But it stipulated financial support could not be channelled to projects conducted in areas that Israel occupied after the 1967 Six-Day War, including the West Bank and the Golan Heights, which was seized from Syria.

"Today, the United States and Israel agreed to remove geographic restrictions in each of the agreements," a US embassy statement said.

During a ceremony at Ariel University in the West Bank attended by US Ambassador David Friedman, Netanyahu praised Trump's administration for "rejecting the failed mantras of the past".

Yonatan Freeman, a political scientist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, told AFP that Wednesday's event was the latest in a series aimed at "trying to cement Trump as the more pro-Israel candidate".

Trump's administration has also brokered normalisation deals for Israel with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, pacts the president has highlighted during his campaign events.

Sudan has also it will also establish ties with Israel.

Trump has given his record on Israel a prominent role in his re-election campaign, wooing Jewish voters and evangelical Christians with strong affinity for the Jewish state.