PM Netanyahu and President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas in Washington, 2010.
(photo credit: GPO)
Israel and the Palestinians signed an agreement this week that gives the Palestinian Authority more autonomy over water projects in the West Bank.
It is a shining example of how cooperation on issues of quality of life can build trust and, hopefully, lead to improved relations between Israelis and their Palestinian neighbors.
Though full details of the agreement have not been released, Dib Abdel Ghafour, a top official at the PA Water Authority, expressed optimism.
“I believe this is a step in the direction of a comprehensive peace agreement with the Israeli government, and a real and serious peace that gives Palestinians and Israelis a real chance,” Ghafour told The Jerusalem Post’s Palestinian Affairs correspondent, Adam Rasgon.
According to Ghafour, 97 delayed projects in the fields of water networks, sewage treatment and water storage – all backed by international funding – can now move forward. The agreement is the latest in a series of steps Israel has taken to give the Palestinians increased autonomy over their own affairs, particularly in the areas of electricity, telecommunications and postal services.
The sides agreed to reconvene the Joint Water Committee for the West Bank, which last met in 2010.
A remnant of the Oslo Accords’ problematic legacy, the JWC was ineffectual even when it did manage to meet. Part of the problem is the demarcation of the West Bank into Areas A, B, and C.
Since Palestinian law enforcers are not given access to Area C, which makes up over 60% of the West Bank, they are unable to properly police widespread Palestinian water theft. Development of Palestinian water and sewage projects, which would enable Palestinians to rely less on potable water for agriculture, often require access to Area C, which Israel often prevents. Israel has also demanded in the past that foreign-funded water and sewage projects that are located in Area C, like one in Salfit near Ariel, service Jewish settlements in addition to Palestinians, a demand which both Palestinians and foreign donors have rejected.
Palestinians have also refused to cooperate with Israel out of an unwillingness to normalize relations.
As a result, raw sewage from Palestinian-controlled areas regularly finds its way into the wadis and tributaries of Judea and Samaria.
Now it seems that the Coordinator for Government Affairs in the Territories, apparently under orders from Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, has taken a more pragmatic approach to water and sewage issues on the West Bank. In his interview last week with The Post, Liberman revealed that he recently approved 11 construction projects in Area C.
Israel has a vested interest in ensuring that Palestinians have proper sewage treatment and sufficient potable water. Raw sewage from Nablus, Hebron and Ramallah ultimately has an impact on Jerusalem and Netanya. We share the same ecosystem with the Palestinians.
Damage done to the environment affects us all. Israelis and Palestinians have a common fate whether we like or not.
Israel also has an interest in improving the standard of living of Palestinians living on the West Bank. It is undeniable that the quality and amount of water provided to West Bank Palestinians has improved significantly since 1967, when Israel took over control of the area. Palestinians get more and better water than citizens of many neighboring countries. But more can be done.
Desalination supplies much of Israel’s water needs.
We should share this technology with the Palestinians.
Advancing water and sewage-treatment projects on the West Bank, and reaching an agreement with the Palestinian on sustainable management of our shared ecosystem, can have a transformative impact on relations between the two peoples. The building of trust on water and sewage issues can lead to cooperation in other areas of mutual interest, from trade and hi-tech to sustainable energy and telecommunications. And this in turn might lead to breakthroughs in the political and diplomatic spheres as well.