Water is an invaluable commodity in the Middle East. Due to the region's scarcity of this vital natural resource, water can be used to perpetuate conflict, fuel wars, and even procure peace.
In 2010, the United Nations recognized that access to clean drinking water was an inalienable human right. Through Resolution 64/292, countries and international organisations were called upon to provide financial resources, help capacity-building and technology transfer to aid established and developing countries provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.
Israel, a global leader in providing innovative water technologies and desalination processes worldwide, recognizes its responsibilities to its own populace and to its immediate neighbours in facilitating fair allocations of water.
Contrary to claims made by Dr. Shaddad Attili, the Minister of the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA), in his Huffington Post Canada commentary, Israel exports volumes of water to the West Bank greatly in excess of what the Oslo Accords had mandated. West Bank Palestinians have access to over 248 million cubic meters (MCM) of fresh natural water as Israel supplies an extra 21 MCM beyond its obligations under the Interim Agreements. This is done, among other reasons, to compensate for the Palestinian Water Authority's repeated failures to implement approved water projects.
According to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), a unit of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, West Bank Palestinians have ample access to water supplies with more availability than in Amman or Damascus. In a report published last month, COGAT noted that the Palestinian Authority has breached its water obligations in the following ways:
- Drilling of wells and creation of other water-extraction sources on the Palestinian side without approval
- Water theft by the Palestinian side through illegal connections to Israeli water infrastructure
- Water contamination and environmental damage from untreated sewage
- Water loss through poor infrastructure and well maintenance
- Contamination of groundwater and pollution of the environment
Israel faults Dr. Attili's Palestinian Water Authority for "Corruption..., lack of organization and insufficient funds," but despite this, Israel seeks to work with its Palestinian counterparts to facilitate the extraction, transfer, and sanitation of its water resources and infrastructure. It's worth remembering that under Jordanian rule prior to 1967, only one in 10 West Bank households were connected to running water. Today, owing to Israel's water policy, the figure stands at 96 percent and is rising.
Instead of accepting responsibility for Palestinian failures to develop, manage, and enforce its water resources, Mr. Attili blames the so-called "Israeli occupation" for impeding progress, yet, as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian agreements following the Oslo Accords of 1993 and subsequent unilateral Israeli withdrawals, the Palestinian Authority now governs the civil affairs of the 98 per cent of Palestinian Arabs who live in the West Bank. In Area C of the West Bank, a sparsely populated land under Israeli control, just four per cent of Palestinians call this area home. As to Israel's settlements, they make up less than three per cent of the West Bank's overall territory.
Contrary to Attili's assertions, Israel does not sell water to Palestinians at an inflated price. The trade price of water was jointly agreed by Israel and its Palestinian counterparts which dictates that 2.6 NIS (Israel's currency) per cubic meter for the PWA. According to COGAT "This is a considerably lower rate than the full real price and also significantly lower than that paid by Israeli municipalities, both within Israel and the West Bank (the average Israeli Municipality pays 3.86 NIS per cubic meter)." Additionally, Israel's settlers use less than their annual allotment. The approximately 350,000 settlers in the West Bank consume less than their Israeli allowance per the Interim Agreements of 150 m3/year.
As to the peril of the Gaza Strip claimed by Attili, the International Red Cross has confirmed there is no humanitarian crisis. Instead, the Strip boasts five star restaurants, boutique hotels, vibrant and well-stocked markets, first class shopping malls, theme parks, luxury restaurants, sports cars, scenic beaches, and Olympic-sized swimming pools. Amazingly, a territory which Attili claims "needs fresh water now" has no problem filling up enormous recreational swimming pools for leisurely use.
Instead of suggesting pragmatic solutions to address pressing water issues in the region, Dr. Attili used the Huffington Post as a platform to protract the conflict and wage a water war with Israel. But water can serve as a valuable bargaining tool in the procurement of peace. Take for example Israel's peace treaty with Jordan in 1994 which to this day sees Israel transfer 50 million cubic metres of water a year to Jordan.
Israel itself faces water shortages greater than previously thought, but Israeli scientists who have literally made the desert bloom through drip irrigation and water reclamation persist with their efforts against tremendous adversity. It's for these reasons that the Canadian government wants to strengthen collaboration with Israel in areas of water technology innovation.
Israel recognizes Palestinian water rights in the West Bank and is of the firm belief that they should ultimately be negotiated in a Permanent Status Agreement, but to get to this state, Mr. Attili's boss, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, must embrace Prime Minister Netanyahu's repeated invitations to immediately start direct negotiations and boldly state what no other Palestinian leader has dared declare before him: that he will accept a Jewish State.
"Palestine" needs this watershed moment now more than ever.