The Palestinian Authority considers water and waste as weapons against Israel, not as areas of cooperation with Israel. As a result, it wildly wastes water and pollutes Israel with sewage, while stealing water from Israel’s wells and pipelines and running around the world falsely accusing Israel of inequitable and discriminatory water policies.
Published in The Jerusalem Post, Friday, July 12, 2013.
It comes back again and again: The canard that Israel is denying West Bank Palestinians water rights negotiated under the Oslo Accords. Haaretz returns to the issue every once in a while with stories about water supply disruptions in the Palestinian Authority, Israeli confiscation of Palestinian water tanks in the Jordan Valley, or Palestinian Water Authority reports about “disproportionate” water allocations to settlements.
You have to read the fine print to discover that illegal Palestinian tapping into Israel’s water lines and massive Palestinian water wastage are the causes of the problem. You have to study the issue in depth to discover that it is not Israeli “occupation policy” but Palestinian political resistance against joint water management and cooperation – that is responsible for the slow development of the Palestinian water sector. The PA considers water and waste as weapons against Israel, not as areas of cooperation with Israel.
For much too long, Israel has failed to respond in detail to Palestinian accusations of Israeli “water apartheid” 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, 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, have been reduced over the last 40 years and are now negligible. He thoroughly refutes Palestinian accusations of inequitable and discriminatory Israeli water policies.
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 status 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 grandiosely 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 inflated demands amount to more than 50 percent of the total natural water available between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
But Gvirtzman, of the Institute of Earth Sciences at the Hebrew University (who has for years been part of the Israeli team for water coordination with the PA), demonstrates that the current division of natural fresh water resources between Israel and the Palestinians is fair. Israel’s population stands at 7.2 million, five times the actual West Bank Palestinian population of 1.4 million. Proportionately, Israel controls 1,200 mcm of the available natural fresh water, and the PA 220 mcm. In per capita terms, this works out to about 160 metric cubes of water per person per annum in both Israel and the PA.
As for settler water use, well, Israel sends into the West Bank for Palestinian usage far more water than settler communities use.
Statistics released by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics and the Palestinian Water Authority for World Water Day this past March, according to Gvirtzman, are fabricated. Straight-out lies. In complete contradiction of the PA’s concocted data, Gvirtzman shows that every Israeli citizen pays more for his or her water – in order to subsidize Israel’s sale of water to the Palestinians at discount prices! In fact, residents of Ariel and Maale Adumim (not to mention Tel Aviv and Haifa) pay twice as much for their water than residents of Nablus and Ramallah pay for their water – if the latter bother to pay anything at all.
But most of all, Gvirtzman’s BESA Center report accuses the PA of doing almost nothing to preventing massive leaking in its domestic pipelines; almost nothing to implement modern water conservation techniques; and nothing to recycle sewage water for irrigation.
In fact, many Palestinian farmers routinely overwater their crops through old-fashioned, wasteful flooding methods. Generally, they don’t pay their own water bills, so they don’t care to conserve. (The PA uses international donor money to pay for this waste). Moreover, at least one-third of the water being pumped out of the ground by the Palestinians is wasted through leakage and mismanagement – by the Palestinian Water Authority’s own estimates. The PA euphemistically calls this “unaccounted for water.”
Worse still, no recycling of water takes place in the Palestinian Authority and no treated water is used for agriculture. By contrast, in Israel about half of 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 Israel’s total water usage.
At the same time, 95 percent of the 56 mcmy (million cubic meters per year) of sewage produced by the Palestinians is not treated at all. Palestinian sewage flows untreated into the streams and valleys of the West Bank, and infiltrates into the mountain aquifer, polluting it for Jews and Arabs alike. Some 17 mcmy of raw Palestinian sewage flows into (pre-67) Israel too.
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 to the Palestinians for this purpose, and despite the fact that Israel has practically begged the PA to build these sewage plants. Only very recently did the PA agree to accept World Bank funding for wastewater treatment plants in Hebron and Nablus.
Even when Israel itself builds a sewage pipeline, like the Wadi Kana trunk line to collect waste water from several communities in the Qalqilya district and treat the sewage in Israel, the PA declines to cooperate. It has not connected the 11 Palestinian towns in the area to this new sewage line.
“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.”
Unfortunately, the international community has allowed the PA to get away with this hostile behavior; to continue its strategy of non-cooperation with Israel; to flout all logical standards of professional conduct.
With Israel’s mega water desalinization plants now coming online, Israel will soon have more than enough water for its own needs as well as sufficient water for sale to the PA. “But first, the PA needs to become a responsible actor,” says Gvirtzman. “It must prevent water wastage, collect real fees from its citizens for water usage, and deal professionally with its sewage. It must also stop stealing from Israel’s wells and pipelines, while running around the world falsely accusing Israel of stealing Palestinian resources.”
Indeed, the PA has violated its water 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 recently 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.
The Palestinians also have rejected on political grounds a proposal which would have created a water desalination plant in Gaza 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!
Which leaves us with the following question for John Kerry and the international community that is so earnestly trying to impress upon Israel the necessity of establishing a Palestinian state: Can you guarantee us that your much-touted Palestinian state will be any more responsible than the Palestinian Authority has been in cooperating with Israel in so many vital civilian areas, such as water and waste management? Or, might Israel have reason for concern that a Palestinian state will be even more nasty and belligerent?