While clashing on most issues fundamental to the Israeli-Palestinian water
crisis, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan and Palestinian Water
Minister Dr. Shaddad Attili agreed that today’s operations must change and that
cooperation between the two entities must grow stronger, at a conference in
Ashdod on Tuesday.
Since the Oslo Interim Agreement of 1995, the Joint
Water Committee has served as the body responsible for allocating water to the
Palestinians and managing the treatment of West Bank sewage.
Palestinians, this means submitting extensive plans for JWC approval – and
usually not receiving it – every time they want to do something as simple as
rehabilitating a village spring, according to Attili.
On the Israeli
side, Erdan said that he has never been invited to a JWC meeting, and has
instead spoken recently with an ambassador who may be willing to mediate
Palestinian-Israeli water issues.
“We are looking for every possible way
to expand cooperation with our neighbors on environmental issues, and especially
with our closest neighbor, the Palestinian Authority,” Erdan
Attili, beginning his speech with a plea to the audience not to
storm out of the room, added, “Whether Israeli, Palestinian, American or
European – we are the water people.”
Arranged by Friends of the Earth
Middle East, the ministerial discussion occurred during the opening session of
the first-ever Ashdod Sustainability Conference, organized by the Ashdod
Municipality, the Municipal Environmental Association of Ashdod-Tel Yavne, Sami
Shamoon College of Engineering, the Environmental Protection Ministry and the
“For the very first time you heard an agreement between an
Israeli and a Palestinian minister,” Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of Friends
of the Earth Middle East, told The Jerusalem Post after the
“[They] agreed that the current mechanism that is managing
shared water is failing the interests of both people, and that the JWC needs to
be changed. That’s a political breakthrough.”
One issue that the two
ministers could not agree upon, however, was whether the political situation and
water situation must be intertwined – for Erdan, the answer was no, while for
Attili, it was absolutely.
Rather than discussing water “rights,” Erdan
argued, the two parties should focus on water “needs,” because each side has
such fundamentally different viewpoints.
“Water should be kept out of the
conflict,” Erdan said, noting that Israel is willing to share its water
expertise with its neighbors. “Water can, and should, be the basis for
To Attili, however, cooperation isn’t that simple, as it
requires a level of equality where the parties are not “occupier” and
“The Palestinian water people see the water conflict as a
political conflict,” Attili said. “But I’m with Minister Erdan that we have to
According to the 1995 agreement, Erdan explained,
Israel was only required to supply 31 million cubic meters of water annually to
the PA in the West Bank, but currently supplies 51.8 million cubic
But to Attili, Palestinians should not be starting off with only
10% of the shared water – what he called an “inequitable allocation of
Regarding preservation of these resources, however, Erdan
argued that while Israel only experiences approximately 11% water loss from pipe
leakage, the PA is still at 33%, and continually sends sewage back to
“Israel has no interest in providing fresh water to Palestinian
neighbors, and in return receiving sewage,” he said.
agreed that Israelis have certainly worked hard to develop desalination and
wastewater- treatment facilities, the Palestinians do pay for the additional
21.8 million cubic meters that they receive, and their applications to build
such plants are denied time and again, according to Attili.
worldwide continue to offer money to West Bank water rehabilitation projects,
but the plans repeatedly get rejected, he continued.
prevents our projects, the sewage will come in your direction,” he
One plan recently refused was a desalination project for a
brackish water spring in Ein Feshkah near the Dead Sea, Attili told the Post
after the conference.
“I’m not intending to revive the Dead Sea while our
people are dying in the Jordan valley,” he said.
Only now, after 15 years
of blocking applications, has the JWC even begun to approve any Palestinian
projects – including a wastewater treatment plant on the Palestinian side of
“We would love to build these facilities and the JWC is
a huge obstacle for us,” Attili told the Post.
As far as bureaucracy
goes, however, Erdan argued that Israeli applicants, too, must deal with the
same arduous processes of acquiring permits.
“Shaddad should tell me if
the IDF stopped him from doing this and that and I can call the general in
charge and demand answers,” Erdan said. “But that doesn’t happen because they
Although each party had differences as to what the basis of
future cooperation should be, both agreed that continuing to speak was
Confident that a solution would eventually prevail, Attili
lightheartedly promised to build desalination plants that would compete with
their Israeli counterparts.
“We will be your neighbor and you will be our
neighbor and we will live in prosperity,” he said.