Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Facts about Water in the Middle East

Complaints by anti Israel writers continue to point the finger at Israel (who else?) for the problems of water supplies to the Palestinians. Yet nearly all these claims are never backed up by facts. So let’s look at the recent comments and the real situation.

a) Israel’s ‘discriminatory policies’ are to blame for the lack of water in Palestinian society.
b) Israel uses the Joint Israeli Palestinian Water Committee (JWC) to veto and delay Palestinian water projects.
c) Israel illegally exploits 90% of the shared water sources.
d) Israeli is stealing water and destroying of water wells and treatment plants.

These claims are full of distortions, outright lies and false accusations, and yet another proof of the PA’s intransigence.

To answer these claims, Missing Peace,a European group www.missingpeace.eu obtained authentic papers documenting meetings of the Joint Israeli Palestinian Water Committee (JWC), and correspondence between Colonel Avi Shalev, head of the International relations branch of COGAT, and Dr.Atilli, the Palestinian representative. These documents paint an entirely different picture. In fact, the Palestinian Authority has been sabotaging the two-state solution by preventing the development of an independent water infrastructure for the future Palestinian state.

Claim - Israel delayed and vetoed Palestinian water projects

a) Article 40 (14) in the Oslo Accords clearly states that all JWC decisions about water projects in the West Bank need mutual agreement. Once approved, JWC projects for the territories under Palestinian control (Areas A and B) do not need any further Israeli involvement.

b) Projects in Area C, where Israel is in control, need approval from the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA). Since 2000 the PWA submitted 76 requests for permits to the office of the ICA. Subsequently 73 permits were issued by ICA and three denied because there was no master plan.

c) In a letter of June 8 2009, Shalev responded to Atilli’s complaint that ICA did not honor a PWA request to issue 12 of these permits. Shalev wrote that these permits had already been issued in 2001, and that ICA wondered why the PWA did not execute these projects.

d) Another 44 JWC-approved projects, the majority in Areas A and B, like the construction of a waste water treatment plant (WWTP) in Jenin that received approval in 2008 - have not been implemented. The German government has even withdraw a plan to build a WWTP in Tulkarm when it concluded that the PWA could not handle the project.

e) When, back in November 2009, the PWA complained about a lack of funds, the Israeli government offered to finance water projects for Palestinian communities. The PA has yet to respond to this offer.

Claim - Israel allocates only 10% of the shared water sources to the Palestinians.

a) The water quota for the West Bank were mutually agreed upon in the Oslo Accords and 33% of the water in the aquifers under the West Bank is allocated to the Palestinians.

b) In 1993 the Palestinians could pump up 117 million cubic meters and Israel would provide an additional 31 million. In 2007 200 million cubic meters were allocated to the PA, of which Israel provided 51.8 million. However, of those 200 million cubic meters, only 180 million were actually used.

c) The main reason for this is that the PWA did not implement projects in the Eastern aquifer that would have solved much of the Palestinian water crisis. More than half of the wells approved for exploitation of the Eastern aquifer have still not been drilled. The permits were issued in 2000.

d) In a letter written on April 4, 2001, the civil administration urged the PWA to execute these projects. A letter from June 8 2009 repeated that request.

Claim - Palestinians are limited to an average of just 60 liters per capita per day.

Facts -
In 2009 Atliil’s own PWA published a report that mentioned an average supply of 110 liters per capita per day.

Claim - Israel is stealing water and destroying Palestinian water projects

a) In fact, Palestinians steal millions of cubic meters of water per year by drilling illegal holes into the water pipes of the Israeli water provider Mekorot. The Civil Authority fixes 600 of these illegal taps each year. Furthermore, since 2008 Israel has asked the PA to re-establish the joint JSET water patrols that fought water theft before the Al Aksa intifada. The PA has refused.

b) Another reason for the loss of water is the poor maintenance of the Palestinian water infrastructure. A staggering 33% of the fresh water supply gets lost because of leaks, theft and poor maintenance.

Lack of Action by PA
Other documents provided solid evidence that the closing of 250 illegal wells was agreed upon in the JWC meetings. For example, minutes of the JWC meeting on November 13, 2007 show a consensus decision to destroy ‘illegal drillings and connections.’ Nevertheless, Atilli acted as if he never attended these meetings or co-signed the joint decisions.

He even had the gall to write urgent appeals to the international community as soon as ICA, after numerous appeals to the PWA to follow up on the agreed closure of illegal wells, finally closed those wells.

These are only few examples of the shocking way the Palestinian Authority neglected the basic needs of its citizens and cynically uses water as a weapon in a PR campaign against Israel. It shows that, contrary to reports dealing with progress in state building, the PA is far from ready for statehood.


The stubborn refusal to work with Israel on mutual interests like improvement of the water infrastructure, and the way the PA subsequently uses that lack of improvement to demonize Israel, prove that the PA is not interested in the two-state solution, or peace.

In fact, the bid for UN recognition of a state without a peace agreement, and the way the PA deals with Israel regarding water are part of the same campaign. The goal of that campaign is, as Mahmoud Abbas pointed out in his infamous NYT op-ed, the continuation of the conflict by different means.

By now it has become clear that the use of water as weapon is one of those means.

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