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Dutch firm severs ties with Mekorot over West Bank policy
By HERB KEINON AND SHARON UDASIN
10/12/2013
The Netherland's largest drinking water supplier says decision had to do with Israel's alleged violations of international law.
 
Vitens, the Netherland's largest drinking water supplier, decided Tuesday it will not do something both the Palestinians and Jordanians made abundantly clear the day before they are willing to do: work with Mekorot, Israel's national water corporation.

Vitens explained its decision by saying that it had to do with Israel's alleged violations of international law. The firm said that it places great emphasis on moral standards and abiding by international rules, and as a result could not continue cooperative projects with its Israeli counterpart.

The day before in Washington, under the auspices of the World Bank, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority signed a trilateral memorandum of understanding on water exchanges and allocation, an agreement that will obviously involve Mekorot.

Although the official company statement did not divulge exactly what regulations Mekorot violated, Dutch media reports said that Vitens decided to cancel collaborations due to Mekorot's presence in the West Bank, following consultations with the Dutch Foreign Affairs Ministry.  

"Vitens attaches great importance to integrity and adhering to (inter)national laws and regulations," an official statement from the company said. "Following consultation with stakeholders, the company came to the realization that it is extremely difficult to continue joint work on projects, as they cannot be separated from the political environment."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor, noting that the Palestinians will cooperate with Mekorot, while the Dutch firm will not, said "what we see here is an urgent need for a little common sense."

"It is more than strange that this Dutch company should boycott an Israel peer that works with the World Bank on a very important regional cooperation project, which includes the Jordanians and Palestinians," he said. "This only shows that by caving in to boycott pressures, one makes absurd decisions that result in a topsy-turvy situation."

Vitens is the largest drinking water company in the Netherlands, providing water to the provinces of Friesland, Overijssel, Flevoland, Gelderland and Utrecht, as well as select municipalities in Noord-Holland and Drenthe. Viten's announcement comes less than two months after the two companies signed a cooperation agreement.

Vitens' decision comes just months after another Dutch firm, the Royal HaskoningDHV engineering company, cancelled its participation in building a sewage treatment plant because it was across the Green Line.

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, who visited the country earlier this week with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, said in a speech Monday that the Dutch government discourages companies from economic involvement beyond the Green Line.

In a related development, Foreign Ministry officials confirmed Tuesday that Israel and Romania were unable to reach an agreement governing the employment of Romanian construction workers in Israel because of Bucharest's insistence that Israel sign a clause saying the laborers would not be employed beyond the Green Line.

Israel was unwilling to sign such a stipulation, a foreign Ministry official said.

Army Radio reported that as a result of the Romanian stance, an interministerial committee dealing with the issue of foreign construction workers met and decided to step up efforts to make up for the lost Romanian workers by recruiting workers from Moldova and Bulgaria.

One government official, noting the irony that numerous Palestinian construction workers work in the settlements, said that the Europeans were becoming "more maximalist in their pro-Palestinian positions than the Palestinians themselves."
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