JERUSALEM (AP) -- The United States and Israel amended a series of scientific cooperation agreements on Wednesday to include Israeli institutions in the West Bank, a step that further blurs the status of settlements widely considered illegal under international law.
Until now, three U.S.-Israeli science cooperation agreements excluded projects in areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war --- including the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
Israeli and American officials signed protocols amending the Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation, the Binational Science Foundation, and Binational Agricultural Research and Development Foundation at a ceremony in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.
Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war, and in the decades since have built dozens of settlements that are now home to over 500,000 Israelis. The Palestinians seek the West Bank and east Jerusalem as part of a future independent state. Most of the international community considers Israeli settlements illegal under international law.
Breaking with decades of American policy, the Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moved the U.S. Embassy there. It also recognized Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights, which was captured from Syria in the 1967 war. The administration also reversed the U.S. government's longstanding position that settlements are a violation of international law.
In a statement, the U.S. Embassy in Israel said that "these geographic restrictions are no longer consistent with U.S. policy," and that updating the agreements to remove them "further strengthens the special bilateral relationship" between the two countries.
"This geographic restriction within the three agreements was an anachronism, it had no place within our evolving region," U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said at a ceremony at Ariel University.
Amending the agreements grants legitimacy to Israel's West Bank settlements and "further blurs the Green Line," said Brian Reeves, spokesman for Israel's Peace Now organization, referring to the boundary between Israel and the West Bank.