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ARIEL, West Bank (Reuters) - The Trump administration lifted a decades-old ban on Wednesday that had prohibited U.S. taxpayer funding for Israeli scientific research conducted in Jewish settlements in occupied territory, drawing Palestinian condemnation.
With Tuesday's U.S. election approaching, President Donald Trump's move was praised by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and could resonate with evangelical Christian voters who support Israeli settlement in the West Bank.
The West Bank settlement of Ariel, the site of an Israeli university, was chosen as the venue for a ceremony opening a new avenue of U.S. scientific cooperation with Israeli researchers.
Palestinians, who seek the West Bank for a future state, said the move made Washington complicit in what they termed Israel's illegal settlement enterprise.
In Ariel, Netanyahu and David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, revised three agreements reached between 1972 and 1977, enabling researchers in settlements to apply for U.S. government funds. They also signed a new scientific and technology cooperation accord.
Under the now-lifted prohibition, research money for Israelis could not be distributed in areas such as the West Bank that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war. Most countries view permanent settlements on such land as a violation of the Geneva Conventions, though Israel disputes this.
"The Trump vision ... opens Judea and Samaria to academic, commercial and scientific engagement with the United States," Netanyahu said at the ceremony in Ariel, using biblical names for West Bank territory.
"This is an important victory against all those who seek to delegitimise everything Israeli beyond the 1967 lines."
Friedman said $1.4 billion had been invested by three U.S.-Israeli research cooperation funds since 1972.
A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said lifting of the funding ban represented "American participation in the occupation of Palestinian lands".
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".
At the ceremony, Netanyahu again praised Trump for his "successful approach to bringing peace to our region", citing U.S.-brokered deals for diplomatic relations between Israel and several Arab states.
(This story was refiled to edit headline.)
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Peter Graff)