Monday, August 29, 2011
The devastating truth about water and Palestinian statehood
YOCHANAN VISSER AND SHARON SHAKED
Documents prove PA claims are all wet.
On June 15, 2011 The Jerusalem Post published an article about the Palestinian water crisis, written by the head of the Palestinian Water Authority, Dr. Shaddad Atilli.
In his article, Atilli wrote that Israel’s ‘discriminatory policies’ are to blame for the lack of water in Palestinian society. He claimed that Israel uses the Joint Israeli Palestinian Water Committee (JWC) to veto and delay Palestinian water projects. He also wrote that Israel illegally exploits 90% of the shared water sources.
Furthermore, he claimed that because of the Israeli theft of water and the destruction of water wells and treatment plants, people realize that the two-state solution is rapidly fading.
His libelous article, full of distortions, outright lies and false accusations, was yet another proof of the PA’s intransigence.
Recently our organization, Missing Peace, 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. These documents paint an entirely different picture. Contrary to Atilli’s outrageous accusations, the Palestinian Authority has been sabotaging the two-state solution by preventing the development of an independent water infrastructure for the future Palestinian state.
Let’s examine some of the claims in Atilli’s article and compare them with the picture that emerges from the JWC and COGAT documents.
‘Israel delayed and vetoed Palestinian water projects,’ says Atilli.
First of all, 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.
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 Civil Administration.
Subsequently 73 permits were issued by ICA and three denied because there was no master plan.
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.
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 even withdraw a plan to build a WWTP in Tulkarm when it concluded that the PWA could not handle the project.
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.
‘Israel allocates only 10% of the shared water sources to the Palestinians’ claims Atilli.
The water quota for the West Bank were mutually agreed upon in the Oslo Accords. As a result, 33% of the water in the aquifers under the West Bank is allocated to the Palestinians.
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.
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.
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.
Atilli also lied about Palestinian water consumption. In the JPost article he claimed that Palestinians are ‘limited to an average of just 60 liters.’ However, in 2009 his own PWA published a report that mentioned an average supply of 110 liters per capita per day.
Atilli’s level of chutzpa is best shown by his third claim, about Israel stealing water and destroying Palestinian water projects. 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 El Aksa intifada.
The PA has refused.
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.
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.
There is, however, yet another conclusion to be drawn here.
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.
Yochanan Visser is Director Missing Peace Information (an Israel-based PD organization operating in Belgium and the Netherlands), and publicist for the Dutch papers De Volkskrant, Het Vrije Volk and De Dagelijkse Standaard. www.missingpeace.eu
Sharon Shaked is the Middle East Expert in Missing Peace. She holds a BA in Middle East and Islamic studies from Hebrew University.