Water matters

Rawabi is meant to offer Palestinians a model of modern urban living but currently has no water.

February 24, 2015 22:54
3 minute read.

Rawabi, the first modern planned Palestinian city. (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)

‘Creating facts on the ground” was an expression associated with the building of new Jerusalem neighborhoods following the reunification of the capital in the Six Day War. The years since 1967 have seen the welcome addition of thousands of housing units, from Pisgat Ze’ev in the city’s north to Gilo in the southwest.

The Six Day War was followed by a time of heady optimism – an era when “land for peace” was a theme that held out the possibility of reaching an equitable settlement of the conflict with the Palestinians.

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The fact that such optimism has been eroded by the continuing failure of the sides to negotiate peace does not necessarily mean that the situation has become hopeless. Even during an acrimonious election campaign and the simultaneous attempt by the Palestinian Authority to prosecute Israel for alleged war crimes, there is room for small acts by both sides that could indeed offer hope.

One such move would be to turn on the water. For the past eight years, a private Palestinian initiative has been building the first planned Palestinian city, Rawabi, north of Ramallah. Entrepreneur Bashar al-Masri envisioned it as an upscale home to some 40,000 residents – mainly educated, young middle-class couples raising families.

Rawabi is meant to offer Palestinians a model of modern urban living – the antithesis of the so-called refugee camps they have been confined to by their corrupt leadership for decades. It is meant to provide a generation that has been taught it has nothing to lose with a reason to live in peace with its Israeli neighbors.

A year ago, the first 700 housing units in Rawabi came on the market and were snatched up. Since then, however, no apartment owners have been able to move in. This is because the city has no water.

The Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government share responsibility for a standoff that is stymieing the completion of a project that could contribute to fostering peaceful relations between them, not to mention a better standard of living for Palestinians.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has put off granting approval to connect Rawabi to the water system for four years, saying such a move requires prior approval by the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee, which the PA has refused to convene since 2010.

In accordance with the 1995 interim agreements, the committee is supposed to enable the supply of water to projects such as Rawabi – but also to settlements. In a cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face move, the Palestinians have refused to convene the committee, since they are not willing to approve water for their model city of Rawabi if this means more water for settlements.

Meanwhile, it should come as no surprise that, while Rawabi sits high and dry above Ramallah, no Jewish community in Judea or Samaria lacks for water.

Whether or not the coming election has anything to do with it, just three weeks ago Ya’alon became persuaded that the right thing to do was to enable Rawabi to become populated. He ordered that the city be connected to the Mekorot national water company.

Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, heartily endorsed the decision. Before the first Rawabi homeowner could take a shower, however, Silvan Shalom, the minister of national infrastructure, energy and water who is responsible for the city’s water supply, postponed implementing the decision.

Shalom’s office said that, according to the 1995 interim agreement, all water and sewage projects for Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank must be approved by the Joint Water Committee.

“Regretfully, since 2010, the Palestinians have refused to convene the committee,” it said. “We’d be happy if the Palestinians would sit in the committee, which could then discuss projects from both sides.”

Shalom’s spokesman added that, once the committee meets, a water hookup for Rawabi could be approved fairly quickly.

While politicians on both sides stubbornly link Rawabi’s immediate need for water to the future supply of water to settlements, one voice of sanity spoke up for the thirsty city. President Reuven Rivlin declared that supplying water to Rawabi is in Israel’s national interest. We agree.

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