When European Parliament President Martin Schulz manages to check the facts on water allocation on the West Bank, he will find that Israel has more than fulfilled its international obligations under the Oslo Water Agreement of 1995.
In fact, while Israel was required to facilitate a 20 percent increase in the fresh water supplied to the Palestinians, that supply has been increased by 50%. This is the clear finding of the comprehensive analysis released by The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies of Bar-Ilan University (BESA) back in 2012, researched by the distinguished Hebrew University hydrologist, Prof Haim Gvirtzman. This report, which is readily available for president Schulz to study, is based on previously classified data.
The study reveals many facts that are little known and even less understood. Today, contrary to what President Schulz was advised by his young student friend in Ramallah, Israeli and Palestinians per capita consume equal volumes of fresh water. The study differentiates between fresh water and artificial, manmade water, focusing on the former, since this is the shared resource to be governed by agreement. Artificially generated water is solely within each authority’s control, sanction and prerogative.
As Professor Gvirtzman documents, since 1967, Israelis have dramatically reduced their per capita annual consumption of fresh water, while the Palestinians have increased theirs. The global trend is for people to consume less fresh water because of increases in population coupled with declining water resources, and this is what, in fact, has happened in Israel.
Thus, in 1967, the per capita annual fresh water consumption by Israelis was 508 cubic meters, but by 2006 had been reduced to 170 cu.m. Over the same period, bucking global trends, the Palestinian usage had increased from 93 cu.m. to 129 cu.m. The Palestinians have increased their consumption of fresh water due to receiving a 50% increase in water allocation, illegally tapping into the Western Aquifer (rather than the Eastern Aquifer), digging illegal wells, and also because of ruinous rates of leakage (over 33 percent, according to the Palestinian Water Authority’s own reports).
The Palestinians have recklessly failed to invest in their water infrastructure (hence the astronomical leakage), have failed to build more than one, solitary recycling plant, even though plants have been approved for all major cities, and even though there is an existing international fund of $500 million waiting and ready to finance these plants. The Palestinians, rather than build the recycling plants, elect to float raw sewerage out of Hebron, Nablus and other major centers, polluting the streams, the groundwater of the Mountain Aquifer, and the countryside.
The Palestinian Authority, in short, has acted irresponsibly. It has done little or nothing to modernize irrigation systems so that its farmers continue to over-water their agricultural crops by using the primitive and wildly wasteful technique of flooding. This, while the Israeli drip-irrigation technology is readily available, inexpensive and proven world-wide to be dramatically effective in reducing fresh water consumption while increasing crop yield.
The Palestinian leadership does not monitor individual water usage, has not built the legal wells authorized under the agreement, performs inadequate if any maintenance, and generally is oblivious of its prerogatives under the 1995 water treaty and its obligations regarding the welfare of its citizens.
The Palestinians claim that they are entitled to 50% of the fresh water between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is quoted in Monday’s Jerusalem Post as accusing the Israelis of demanding too much water – “12 times as much water as the Palestinians.” But this claim is refuted by the terms of the 1995 Oslo Water Agreement, which preempts all other sources of international law. Nor is Abbas’s claim validated by the new rules of international law which would have governed in the absence of the Oslo agreement and which can guide both sides in the peace negotiations.
I first read the Gvirtzman study a few months ago after I was disturbed to hear allegations similar to those related to Mr. Schulz in Ramallah. It occurred to me that I should study the matter before accepting recurring rumored allegations.
I find the Gvirtzman Bar-Ilan study to be very discouraging because it portrays a Palestinian conceptual framework which a Western-educated mind cannot readily grasp. Why would the Palestinian Authority not build recycling plants, for example, approved by the Israelis under the agreement and paid for by the Europeans? One reads of PA corruption and the fact that hundreds of millions of dollars in aid have been diverted. I recall reading – and this was years ago – that more aid per individual has been granted to the PA than was spent in Europe for the Marshall Plan.
But predilection to corruption would not seem to explain the failure to build at least some of these water recycling plants so vital for the Palestinians’ welfare.
The Arabs, Jordan excepted, have refused to settle the Palestinian refugees or even their third- and fourth-generation descendants, it is claimed, in order to preserve the Palestinian refugee problem, and its asserted “right of return” as an insurmountable obstacle to a final settlement which would recognize Israel. On the assumption that Arabs care about their fellow Arabs and coreligionists, this is a severe and self-inflicted wound on generations of innocent individuals for the sake of a distant ideal. After 65 years, one would expect rational people to reassess the equation of cost and benefit and to reconsider the balance of pain and pleasure.
The sad story of the PA’s water policy and behavior seems to suggest that we cannot seek to understand their behavior through our own cultural prism. One must question whether we understand our interlocutors and what makes them tick.
The author is an attorney in Israel and the US, and is the founding president of the Institute for Zionist Strategies, which seeks to strengthen Israel as the democratic nation-state of the Jewish People.