Government slams French water 'apartheid' report

French MK blames Israel for turning water into a "weapon"; Foreign Ministry calls report inaccurate propaganda.

January 17, 2012 21:35
4 minute read.
Desalination plant in Hadera

Desalination plant in Hadera 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS / Nir Elias)

The Foreign Ministry slammed a French legislator’s report on the country’s “apartheid” water policies as “venomous,” inaccurate and strewn with anti-Israel propaganda.

The report, a case study on “The Jordan Basin: Water as an Integrated Hinge of the Territorial Conflict and Security Question,” was a 20-page section in a more-than-300-page publication on “The Geopolitics of Water,” published by the French National Assembly on December 13. Commissioned by the Foreign Affairs Committee in October 2010, the report was the work of French MP Jean Glavany (Socialist Party) and a team of other legislators.

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Its Jordan Basin section highlights the region’s ongoing water crisis and blames much of the Palestinians’ water trouble on Israeli policies.

At the end of the section, however, an inset gray box titled “Water, revealer of a new apartheid in the Middle East” amplifies the previous paragraphs’ criticisms, describing how the region has become “the theater of a new apartheid.” Calling the separation in general between Palestinians and Jews in the West Bank “racial segregation,” the sidebar essay dubs the situation “arrogant and contemptuous.”

While Israel transferred governance over West Bank Areas A and B to the Palestinian Authority, these two regions – which contain roughly 95 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian population – make up only 40% of the territory’s land, the essay argues. Area C, on the other hand, contains most of the West Bank’s open space and access to water resources, as well as all of the area’s major roads. The division, therefore, is simply an “illusion,” it says.

Water has become an integral element of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to the extent that it prompted the creation of the Joint Water Committee to oversee distribution of joint water resources in the 1995 Oslo II interim agreement – a committee over which Israel has complete veto power, the essay argues. As Areas A and B are not contiguous and are “fragmented into enclaves surrounded by roads reserved for settlers,” development of Palestinian infrastructure is nearly impossible, according to the author.

“Water has become in the Middle East more than a resource – it is a weapon,” the report says.

The essay goes on to slam Israel for the priority it gives to Jewish West Bank settlers over Palestinians during times of drought, as well as the “separation wall,” which it says provides Israel with control over groundwater access. Charging that “wells spontaneously drilled by Palestinians in the West Bank are systematically destroyed by the Israeli army,” the report also blasts the IDF for 2008-2009 “bombardments” of Gazan reservoirs.

In response, the Foreign Ministry charged the author with employing “hateful propaganda” in an unprofessional manner that prevents any rational debate and instead harbors “the most extreme of anti- Israeli discourse,” along with a “sweeping denial of all possibilities for dialogue.”

“The systematic evading of simple facts that are available for verification within the field indicate the blatant bias of the author,” a ministry spokesman said.

Not only does Israel does not take away water from the PA, it actually supplies the neighboring government with much more than it is required to under the Oslo Accords, the ministry continued. Meanwhile, the spokesman explained, Palestinians are actually abandoning their own commitments by perpetuating pirated well-drilling all over the region.

“Instead of contributing to the understanding and cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians, the report fuels the tensions by piling up false data and distorted statements, and this destructive approach must be dismissed from the beginning,” the ministry said.

When Israeli diplomats brought the report to the attention of the legislators who helped Glavany draft the report, the latter were actually “astonished” to see the harsh wording of the final version, according to the ministry. The co-authors, as well as the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the chairman of the France-Israel Friendship group, repudiated Glavany’s claims and issued public statements to this effect, accusing Glavany of using a “venomous and disparaging tongue against Israel,” the spokesman said.

Green group Friends of the Earth Middle East expressed mixed feelings about the French report, with its Israel director, Gidon Bromberg, noting that it stressed the need for a solution to the water crisis that was acceptable to both parties.

“Instead of igniting the region on an issue where it is clear that an agreement can be reached, the governments need to urgently advance a solution that would serve the interests of both sides – meeting the water supply needs for Palestinians, as well as management of sewage and wastewater that affects the Israeli side,” Bromberg said.

The group’s Palestinian director, Nader al-Khateeb, stressed that the current Joint Water Committee system was failing, and that an agreement ensuring a fairer share of trans-boundary groundwater was essential.

However, Prof. Haim Gvirtzman of The Hebrew University’s Earth Science Institute told The Jerusalem Post that without a doubt, labeling Israel’s policies as “apartheid” was an idea “not connected to reality.”

On Tuesday, the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University released a new study by Gvirtzman, “Myths and Facts in Israeli- Palestinian Water Conflict,” in which he refutes claims that Israel is denying West Bank Palestinians their water rights.

“It is just the opposite of apartheid,” he told the Post, stressing that since Israel gained control over the area from Jordan, it had connected more than 700 villages to running water.

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