|Photo by: REUTERS/Ammar Awad|
How water became a weapon in Arab-Israeli conflict
By YOCHANAN VISSER
The conflict between the Palestinians and Israel is fought on many fronts nowadays.
The conflict between the Palestinians and Israel is fought on many fronts
nowadays. This is the result of a change in strategy decided on by the current
Palestinian Authority leadership in 2008. A 2008 report by The Palestinian
Strategy Group, which advises the PA, called “Regaining the Initiative” formed
the basis of this strategic overhaul in PA politics vis-à-vis
According to the report, the negotiation route standard between
1988 and 2008 was to be shut down indefinitely and terror (termed “resistance”
by the PSG) would be replaced by a more sophisticated “threat power.” This would
entail the refusal to cooperate and the push for boycotts.
important element in the new strategy was eliciting more third-party support and
ensuring the Palestinian discourse would be the primary viewpoint in the
discussion about the “Palestinian national project.”
Cognitive warfare, a
form of propaganda, has become a successful element in this Palestinian attempt
to elicit third-party support. Disinformation about the Israeli settlements in
the West Bank spearheaded this campaign.
Today much of the world is
convinced that the Israeli settlements are the main reason for the absence of
But in many other fields, too, the Palestinian discourse dominates
the international attitude toward the Palestinian- Israeli conflict. The dispute
about the water resources in the West Bank is a good example. The international
community has been willfully misled by Palestinian propaganda on water
UNTIL NOW much of the literature about the water conflict
followed either the Palestinian discourse (vast majority) or the Israeli
discourse (small minority).
However, a thesis titled “The Politicization
of the Oslo Water Agreement,” written by Lauro Burkart, a Swiss graduate of the
Institute of International and Development studies in Geneva gives a more
accurate and impartial picture of the topic of the scarcity of water in the
Burkart interviewed many key players in the water
conflict, Palestinians and Israelis as well as representatives of NGOs and the
donor countries. He also examined many original documents such as the minutes of
the meetings of the joint Israeli Palestinian Water Committee (JWC).
are some of the most important conclusions in Burkart’s thesis:
• The goals of
the Oslo II water agreement have been reached regarding the quantities of water
provided to the Palestinian population (178 mcm/year in 2006). The Oslo water
agreement estimated that demand would eventually reach 200 mcm/year.
The JWC functioned well in the first years following signature of the agreement,
but since 2008 cooperation has come to a halt.
• The facts disseminated
by the Palestinians, international organizations and donors about the root
causes of the water scarcity in the West Bank are incorrect.
writes: “It is not the Israeli occupation policy but the Palestinian political
resistance against joint management and cooperation that is responsible for the
relatively slow development of the Palestinian water sector and the
deteriorating human rights situation in the Palestinian Territories” and “There
is convincing evidence of mismanagement within the Palestinian Water Authority
He cites the pro-Palestinian NGO Aman, that concluded that there
is “no clear legal separation between the political and executive levels within
the Palestinian water institutions. To date there is no real functioning water
law. Furthermore the National Water Council is not meeting and not functioning
Although the PWA embarked on an institutional reform process in
reaction to international critics such as the World Bank this did not solve the
issue of mismanagement within the institution. The head of the Palestinian
Hydrology Group called the reform a “fundraising mechanism.”
The PWA also
did not manage to gain control over many municipalities (where Israel has no
control) due to the autocratic and undemocratic manner in which they are
managed. These power holders did not want to lose control of the water systems
since it was one of the main services provided by the municipalities.
a result the water supply is not centralized and illegal drilling is rampant.
The fact that the PA pays most of the water bills of the Palestinian population
gives no incentive for saving and leads to an unreasonable use of water in the
domestic sphere as well as in the agricultural sector.
interviewed Dr. Shaddad Attili, head of the PWA, who was appointed in 2008.
Attili, a Fatah member, is responsible for the de facto ending of the
cooperation with Israel in order to bolster Palestinian water rights claims. He
did this to strengthen the position of Fatah after the Hamas victory in the
This policy is conducted at the expense of the
marginalized and peripheral Palestinian population which is suffering from water
shortages. Burkart writes that the abundance of donor money allowed Atilli to
continue the noncooperation strategy which has lead to a complete stagnation of
the water negotiations during the past five years.
One of the results of
the refusal to cooperate with Israel is that almost all of the 52 mcm of waste
water generated by the Palestinian population flows untreated into Israel and
the West Bank, where it contaminates shared groundwater resources. Nevertheless,
the Palestinians claim that Israel is blocking their waste water
The facts are that most of the Palestinian waste water
treatment and reuse projects have already received foreign funding and were
supported by Israel.
The PA, however, has not taken sufficient action to
execute those projects. Instead the PA claims Israel is demanding an
unreasonably high level of treatment (BOD 10/10).
A JWC memorandum of
understanding from 2003, however, which was signed by both parties, agreed on a
gradual process to achieve this standard (starting with BOD
Following a meeting in November 2011 between Colonel Avi Shalev
of the Civil Administration and PWA officials about the implementation of
Palestinian water projects, Israel offered to finance water and waste water
projects that would serve Palestinian communities in the West Bank. The
Palestinians didn’t respond.
Another solution that could solve the water
crisis in the PA is seawater desalination. In fact Israel made an offer to the
Palestinians to build a desalination plant in Hadera south of Haifa and pump the
desalinated water to the northern West Bank. The Palestinians rejected this
solution since it would put Israel in an upstream position to the West Bank.
Another reason for this rejection has to do with water rights since the
Palestinians claim the Mountain Aquifers.
Attili even withdrew a PWA
expert team from an Israeli desalination program using the argument that Israel
had unilaterally destroyed a number of illegal wells on the West Bank. This
proved to be another example of Attili’s propaganda campaign.
responded after Attili complained about the wells in a letter to the
international community. The decision to shut down these wells was taken by the
Joint Water Committee. After that several reminders were sent to the PWA which
reiterated its intention to execute the JWC decision. Nothing happened, however.
Four years after the decision was taken Israel decided to execute the decision
since illegal drilling diminishes the amount of water produced by legal wells
and damages the main aquifers.
It is obvious that Attili’s
non-cooperation strategy is connected to the overall change in strategy
vis-à-vis Israel in 2008 by the PA. Water has become a weapon against the
so-called Israeli occupation.
Unfortunately Attilli has been able to
convince the international community that Israel is to blame for the slow
development of the Palestinian water sector. A good example is Abdelkarim
Yakobi, the project manager in the department of water, transport and energy at
the Office of the EU representative for the West Bank and Gaza. Yakobi, who was
interviewed by Burkart, also blamed Israel for the slow development of the
Palestinian water sector.
This is strange; if a Swiss graduate was able
to get access to all the relevant information, why did the European Union, with
all of its resources, not do the same? Had it done so there is no doubt the EU
would have found out who really is to blame.
The EU has allocated funds
for at least seven waste water treatment plants. It is reasonable to assume that
the Europeans would have some oversight on the execution of these projects – so
why did they not demand accountability from the PWA? In fact the PA has now been
given a free pass to use water as a weapon against Israel. By doing so, the
international community is in fact contributing to the aggravation of the
conflict and harming the interests of the Palestinian population.
writer is a freelance journalist and the director of Missing Peace Information,
an independent news agency based in Gush Etzion. firstname.lastname@example.org