By LAHAV HARKOV
Extending agreements between the US and Israel to the West Bank, Golan and east Jerusalem bolsters the ties between the countries, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said in a ceremony removing the only territorial limitations in agreements between Washington and Jerusalem on Wednesday.
“We are righting an old wrong and strengthening yet again the unbreakable bond between our two countries,” Friedman said at a signing ceremony with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ariel University in Samaria.
Netanyahu and Friedman signed new versions of three agreements on research cooperation, which erase a line that says “cooperative projects sponsored by the Foundation may not be conducted in geographic areas which came under the administration of the Government of Israel after June 5, 1967, and may not relate to subjects primarily pertinent to such areas.”
The first agreement, signed in 1972, was the Binational Science Foundation, followed in 1976 the Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation (BIRD), and then the Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund (BARD) in 1977. All three had large endowments that provided grants to American and Israeli academics and companies for research and technology.
They also signed a new Science and Technology agreement, meant to increase government-to-government cooperation at the highest levels, which also does not have geographic restrictions.
Friedman said that BIRD, BARD and BSF, as originally written, “were subject to political limitations that did not serve the goals sought to be achieved.”
The ambassador pointed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement last month that the Trump administration no longer views Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria as being illegal per se.
In light of that decision, “these geographic restrictions [in the agreements] no longer comport with our foreign policy,” Friedman said. “Plainly, this geographic restriction within the three agreements was an anachronism. It had no place within our evolving region – a region which, under the Trump administration, is continuously advancing the cause of peace in new and exciting ways.”
Friedman also said that removing the territorial restrictions in the agreements fits with the spirit of the Abraham Accords, which “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.”
The ambassador said that, while the process of getting approval to change the agreements took time, there was no pushback against the policy.
OVER THE decades since the three agreements were signed, they “provided both countries with a tremendous return on investment… providing for unprecedented advancement and cooperation,” Friedman said.
“I couldn’t be happier or more proud to sign on behalf of the United States the amended and corrected BSF, BIRD and BARD agreements as well as the new Science and Technology Agreement,” the ambassador stated.
Distinctions between different territories under Israeli control still remain in US policy. For example, Israelis born in Jerusalem have the city and not “Israel” listed as their place of birth on their passports. However, BSF, BIRD and BARD were the only agreements signed between the two countries with such restrictions.
Netanyahu thanked Friedman for his efforts to “right past wrongs and put things on the right course,” calling the changes in the agreements a “demonstration of the commitment” by the Trump administration to a “new approach” in the Middle East.
The prime minister said that with every move US President Donald Trump has made to change policy towards Israel – such as moving the US embassy to Jerusalem or recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, among others – the “naysayers said it would destroy the chances of peace… The naysayers were wrong, dead wrong – every single time.
“By rejecting the failed mantras of the past, the Trump plan not only provides a realistic solution for the Palestinians… but it also put forward something else we see today. It opens Judea and Samaria to academic, commercial and scientific engagement with the US,” Netanyahu added. “To those malevolent boycotters, I have a simple message today: You are wrong and you will fail.”
Netanyahu said that funding from BIRD, BARD and BSF has gone to important medical research over the years, adding that “perhaps, who knows – it will help humanity wipe out coronavirus.”
Higher Education Minister Ze’ev Elkin tweeted praise for amending the agreements, calling it “a great achievement in promoting sovereignty in Judea and Samaria and strengthening Ariel University.”
Elkin called the move “another stage on the way to international recognition of our rights in Judea and Samaria.”
Prof. Eugene Kontorovich of George Mason Law School, who is also international director of the Israeli think tank the Kohelet Policy Forum and a major proponent of the policy change in recent years, called the change an “explicit rejection of UN Security Council Resolution 2334,” which the US under former president Barack Obama allowed to pass, and states that settlement activity constitutes a “flagrant violation” of international law and has “no legal validity.”
US Israel Education Association (USIEA) Director Heather Johnson who is a long time supporter of Ariel University and worked on behalf of the initiative said, “We are elated with the overdue depoliticization of academic research, development and excellence. For a decade US Israel Education Association (USIEA) has brought congressional delegations to Ariel University where the late chancellor, Yigal Cohen Orgad, educated us of the ineligibility of life-saving and integrated Israeli-Palestinian R&D initiatives to the binational foundations, BIRD, BARD and BSF. We thank Senator James Lankford, Senator Ted Cruz, and Congressman Doug Lamborn for their personal involvement in the efforts toward amending these agreements, and we thank US Ambassador David Friedman for acting upon these recommendations to make them US official policy.”