Radical academics have often complained about Israel discriminatory treatment of Palestinians with regard to water use. As IAM recently reported, Tel Aviv University lecturer, Dr. Anat Matar included the alleged theft of Palestinian water in her definition of the apartheid regime. Indeed, many of these claims have been adopted by human rights organization and even made it into a recent report by Foreign Affairs committee of the French parliament that accused Israel of "water apartheid."
The following report, based on newly released data by the Water Authority negates accusations of "water apartheid."
The French water report
By SUSAN HATTIS ROLEF
While the report's basic facts presented appear fair, the conclusion relating caused an uproar in Jerusalem.
On December 13 the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French National Assembly published a monumental, 320-page report on the geopolitics of water, penned by Socialist Member of the National Assembly Jean Glavany.
The report dealt with two current international water conflicts: a conflict between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan over the Aral Sea Basin in Central Asia, and the case of the Jordan River Basin, involving Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the West Bank. In the case of the Jordan River Basin, most of the emphasis is on Israeli-Palestinian relations.
While the basic facts presented in the report appear to be fair, the conclusion relating to Israel caused an uproar in Jerusalem – especially the title of a box within the report: “Water, Revealing a New Apartheid in the Middle East.”
After analyzing the history of the term “apartheid” and admitting that “Palestine is not South Africa, and 2010 is not 1990,” the report nevertheless accuses Israel of conducting an apartheid policy in the West Bank.
The report is critical of the disparity in water allocation between 450,000 Jewish “colonial settlers” (in the words of the report) and 2.3 million Palestinians. The report also accuses Israel of blocking attempts by the Palestinian Authority to develop its meager water resources, and sealing Palestinian wells and cisterns.
While the report admits that Israel is acting most of the time within the framework of the agreements relating to water resources in the Oslo Accords, it emphasizes the basic injustice of Israel’s de facto control of their implementation.
The most worrying aspect of this whole affair is that while Israel knew all along that a report was being prepared by the National Assembly, and although senior Israeli water experts, as well as Minister of Energy and Water Uzi Landau, actually met with MNA Jean Glavany when he visited Israel last May, no one in the Israeli Embassy in Paris bothered to follow up progress on the report, or ask to see a draft before it was published. The report was first seen in the Foreign Ministry on the website of the National Assembly, several days after its publication. Someone in the Israeli Embassy in Paris fell asleep on watch.
IT IS perfectly legitimate to argue that Israel’s occupation policy in the West Bank has shifted since 1967 from one of benevolence to daily occurrences of brutality against the background of objective security concerns. But while one could argue that Israel is in breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention relating to occupied territories, the situation is not as black and white as presented in the French report.
In the first place, the term “apartheid” applies when one population group is systematically segregated and discriminated against in a single, sovereign state. As long as the West Bank is not annexed to the State of Israel, the term apartheid simply does not apply, though other strongly critical terms might certainly be applicable when speaking of Israel’s conduct vis-à-vis the Palestinians.
Even King Abdullah of Jordan, who recently stated that in the absence of a two-state solution the result will either be with a single democratic state, or a single apartheid state, avoided terming the current situation as apartheid.
But there are additional facts that must be emphasized. The first is that up to the Six Day War Jerusalem and most of the West Bank were connected to running water only two or three days a week, so that the situation today, despite the major increase in the Palestinian population, has unquestionably improved.
The second is that even if Israel were to distribute the available water equally between the Palestinians and the Jewish settlers in the West Bank, and were to agree to share the aquifers more fairly with the Palestinian Authority, the whole area of Mandatory Palestine (Israel, Jordan and the West Bank) suffers from an acute water shortage, which can only be resolved by means of effective regional effluent purification projects, and massive desalination plants along the coast of Israel and the Gaza Strip. This applies no matter what shape the eventual political settlement in our region will take.
One final point ought to be mentioned. All the Israeli Committees of Inquiry that investigated the water crisis in Israel in recent decades, including the most recent National Committee of Inquiry on the Management of the Water Sector, that published its report two years ago, failed to deal with the regional issue, which is considered political, and therefore outside the bounds of a purely professional investigation. This might prove to have been a mistake, at least in terms of Israeli hasbara.
The writer was a Knesset employee for many years, and wrote the final report of the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry on the Israeli Water Sector, in 2002
This important new study by Prof. Haim Gvirtzman, based on previously classified data, refutes Palestinian claims that Israel is denying West Bank Palestinians water rights negotiated under the Oslo Accords. The study also proposes a practical plan for Israeli-Palestinian water sharing in the future.
In this BESA Center study, hydrologist Prof. Haim Gvirtzman of the Institute of Earth Sciences at the Hebrew University examines Palestinian water claims against Israel by presenting detailed information about water supply systems presently serving Israelis and Palestinians. He also discusses international law and shows that the Palestinians have little basis for their water demands.
Gvirtzman relies on previously classified data, recently released for publication by the Israeli Water Authority – 15 years after the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement. The data shows that currently there is almost no difference in per capita consumption of natural water between Israelis and Palestinians.
Nevertheless, the Palestinian Authority claims that it suffers from water shortages in its towns and villages due to the Israeli occupation and cites international law in support of its claims. These claims amount to more than 700 million cubic meters of water per year (MCM/Y), including rights over the groundwater reservoir of the Mountain Aquifer, the Gaza Strip Coastal Aquifer and the Jordan River. These demands amount to more than 50 percent of the total natural water available between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
But contrary to Palestinian claims, Gvirtzman demonstrates that Israel has fulfilled all of its obligations according to the agreements it signed in 1995 with the Palestinian Authority, and in fact has exceeded them. The PA currently consumes 200 MCM of water every year (with Israel providing about 50 MCM of this) – which, under the accords, is more than Israel is supposed to provide a full-fledged Palestinian state under a final settlement arrangement.
Gvirtzman shows that large difference in water usage that existed in 1967, when the administration of Judea and Samaria was handed over from Jordan to Israel, has been reduced over the last 40 years and is now negligible. As well, the per capita domestic water consumption of the Palestinians is significantly higher than the minimum human needs defined by the World Health Organization.
In contrast, the Palestinians have violated their part of the agreement by drilling over 250 unauthorized wells, which draw about 15 MCM/Y of water, and connecting these pirate wells to its electricity grid. Moreover, the PA has illegally and surreptitiously connected itself in many places to the water lines of Israel's Mekorot National Water Company – stealing Israel's water.
Palestinian famers also routinely overwater their crops through old-fashioned, wasteful flooding methods. Gvirtzman says that at least one-third of the water being pumped out of the ground by the Palestinians (again, in violation of their accords with Israel) is wasted through leakage and mismanagement. No recycling of water takes place and no treated water is used for agriculture.
In fact, 95 percent of the 56 million cubic meters of sewage produced by the Palestinians each year is not treated at all. Only one sewage plant has been built in the West Bank in the last 15 years, despite there being a $500 million international donor fund available for this purpose. “The Palestinians refuse to build sewage treatment plants,” Gvirtzman says. “The PA is neither judicious nor neighborly in its water usage and sewage management.”
Gvirtzman further shows that the Palestinians have little basis for their water demands according to international legal norms. First, the signed water agreement overrules all other parameters. Second, Israel's historical possession of the Mountain Aquifer was established in the 1940s. Third, the Palestinians should not exploit groundwater from the Western Aquifer, which is fully utilized by Israel, before first exploiting groundwater from the non-utilized Eastern Aquifer. Finally, the Palestinians should be preventing leaks in domestic pipelines, implementing conservative irrigation techniques, and reusing sewage water as irrigation.
The fact that the Palestinians have taken none of these steps and have not adopted any sustainable development practices precludes their demands for additional water from Israel, writes Gvirtzman.
Israel believes that the water issue could be transformed from a source of controversy and tension to a source of understanding and cooperation. Gvirtzman’s study suggests a plan that can efficiently and quickly solve the current and future water shortages on both sides. The plan, based on sustainable development and advanced technologies, would supply the sufficient quantity of water needed at least until 2030 and still leave some reserves.
The full study is online.