Israel says U.S. will now fund Israeli research projects in West Bank, Golan

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel said on Tuesday the United States is effectively lifting a ban on U.S. funding of Israeli scientific research projects conducted in the West Bank and Golan Heights, areas Israel occupied in a 1967 war.

There was no immediate Palestinian comment on the move, announced a week before a U.S. presidential election in which opinion polls show incumbent Donald Trump, hailed by Israel as one of its staunchest allies, trailing Democrat Joe Biden.

Past scientific accords with the U.S. government stipulated that Israeli research projects receiving U.S. grants could not be carried out in areas that came under Israeli administration in the 1967 conflict.

The Trump administration last year effectively backed Israel's right to build West Bank settlements by abandoning a long-held U.S. position that they were "inconsistent with international law".

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the U.S. ambassador to Israel will sign amended scientific cooperation agreements at a "special ceremony" in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank on Wednesday, Netanyahu's office said in a statement.

The revised agreements "will expand scientific cooperation between Israel and the United States to Judea and Samaria and the Golan Heights," the Israeli statement said, using the biblical names for the West Bank.

Palestinians seek a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem and along with many countries consider the settlements illegal.

Under a peace blueprint that Trump announced in January and which Palestinians rejected as biased towards Israel, Israel would retain control of most of its West Bank settlements.

In May, Trump recognised Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau captured from Syria. He has also challenged international consensus by recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moving the U.S. Embassy to the holy city.

(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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