It comes back again and again: The canard that Israel is denying West Bank Palestinians water rights negotiated under the Oslo Accords. Just last week Haaretz regurgitated the issue with a story about water supply disruptions in eastern Jerusalem, and another story about confiscation of water tanks in the Jordan Valley. You had to read the fine print to discover that illegal Palestinian tapping into Israel’s water lines were the cause of the problem.
For much too long, Israel has failed to respond in full detail to Palestinian water claims against Israel, which are ubiquitous in the UN and NGO world. Only recently has the Civil Administration and the Israeli Water Authority, along with one of Israel’s top hydrologists, Prof. Haim Gvirtzman of the Institute of Earth Sciences at the Hebrew University, begun to fight back with properly documented counter-claims.
The newly-released studies show clearly that 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), while the Palestinians are wasting tremendous amounts of water while refusing to utilize modern water conservation or sewage treatment methods.
In an exceptional study published by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Gvirtzman shows that large differences in per-capita consumption of natural water between Jews and Arabs 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. The Palestinian Authority currently consumes 200 million cubic meters (mcm) of water every year, with Israel providing more than 50 mcm of this – which, under the accords, is more than Israel it supposed to provide a full-fledged Palestinian state under a final settlement arrangement!
Nevertheless, the Palestinian Authority claims that it suffers from water shortages in its towns and villages due to the Israeli occupation and it cites international law in support of its claims. These claims amount to more than 700 million cubic meters of water per year, 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.
Gvirtzman refutes these claims and points to the real problem: The PA employs no sustainable development practices when it comes to water usage. It has done nothing to preventing massive leaking in its domestic pipelines, nothing to implement conservative irrigation techniques, and nothing to recycle sewage water for irrigation.
In fact, Palestinian famers routinely overwater their crops through old-fashioned, wasteful flooding methods. At least one-third of the water being pumped out of the ground by the Palestinians is wasted through leakage and mismanagement. No recycling of water takes place and no treated water is used for agriculture. (In Israel, almost all agriculture is sustained by treated waste water. In fact, Israel’s use of treated wastewater, its desalination activities, and its measures to reduce water losses in the water system add 800 mcm per year to its water supply, amounting to one third of our total water usage).
At the same time, 95 percent of the 56 million cubic meters of sewage produced by the Palestinians each year is not treated at all. Palestinian sewage flows untreated into the streams and valleys of the West Bank, and into the mountain aquifer, polluting it for Jews and Arabs alike. 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. Only very recently did the PA agree to accept World Bank funding for a wastewater treatment plant in Hebron.
“The Palestinians generally refuse to build sewage treatment plants,” Gvirtzman says. “The ugly truth behind all the anti-Israel propaganda is that PA is neither judicious nor neighborly in its water usage and sewage management.”
In order to feed its out-of-control appetite for water, the Palestinians have violated their agreements with Israel by drilling over 250 unauthorized wells, which draw about 15 mcm a year of water, and by 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. That’s why the Civil Administration confiscated some PA water tanks in the Jordan Valley.
The Civil Administration points out that the PA has barely begun to tap into the Eastern Aquifer in the West Bank (which was allocated to PA use by accord with Israel), from which it could produce another 60 mcm per year. The Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee has approved the drilling of 70 water wells by the PA for this purpose, yet more than half of the approved wells have not yet been drilled. This would put a grand total of 260 mcm of water per year at the disposal of the PA (for approximately two million West Bank residents), which is 130 cubic meters per person – well above WHO standards.
The Palestinians also have rejected on political grounds a proposal which would have created a water desalination plant in Hadera specifically to meet Palestinian needs. The U.S. had set aside $250 million for the project, which again could have yielded a huge increase in the amount of available water for the Palestinians.
But hey – it’s much easier to steal water from Israel and simultaneously complain that Israel is drying out West Bank Palestinians!