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At a time when the government is pressing for the international community to stop funding the PA following the Hamas victory, Israel on Tuesday called on the donor community to fund Palestinian environmental projects to get rid of solid waste.
"These are extremely important issues that affect Israelis and Arabs and they need to be taken care of urgently," said Beni el-Baz, head of Environmental Coordination for the Civil Administration, adding, "The Palestinians don't have the money to pay for all this."
Baz was one of a number of Israelis and Palestinians who spoke at a regional symposium in Jerusalem on pollution of shared Israeli-Palestinian groundwater, held by the Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) at the Notre Dame Hotel.
To many in Israel, wherever Palestinians throw their garbage is not a concern. But Baz, and Ilan Nissim of the Ministry of Environment, explained to the audience that the creation of sanitary landfills for Ramallah, Hebron, Nablus and Tulkarm were as much of a concern to them as it should be to the Palestinians.
"If their garbage is not disposed of properly, the liquids seep into the ground and contaminates the water under Judea and Samaria and in the rivers that flow West to Israel," explained Baz.
Baz called on foreign donors to fund numerous projects around the West Bank.
As much as they would like to do so, the foreign donors are now in a dilemma. The US and European Union define Hamas as a terrorist organization and are therefore hesitant about transferring funds to a government led by Hamas.
Baz believes that this can and needs to be circumvented. "Today they say they can't fund projects with Hamas in government, tomorrow they can," he said. "If there's a will, there's a way."
Aid agencies attending the symposium were not so sure. Barbara Belding of USAID asked donors to help the aid agencies to identify ways that they could continue to fund these projects.
"We have money in the pipelines and we don't know what to do with it," she said, looking directly at Ambassador William Taylor, US Special Envoy to the Disengagement, who spoke at the conference in the name of the Quartet. "I urge you in the donor communities to identify our partners."
Israel, said Baz, dealt with whomever was necessary to solve the issues of waste management and environment. Over the last year, the Palestinians had elected Hamas politicians to run the municipalities of major cities. Nevertheless, Israel continues to work with those municipalities.
"I want to say that there is daily and productive cooperation between the municipalities and the Civil Administration," said Baz.
However, when asked pointedly about talking to Hamas, he gave the official line: "We do not talk to Hamas."
Baz noted that by military decree, Israel must facilitate the disposal of solid waste from Palestinian communities. He noted that the Palestinians did not have a special disposal site for medical waste and that it was often not disposed of in Israel, but rather was dumped with regular waste, which is a very dangerous practice.
Engineer Nader Khateeb of the FoEME said that one of the biggest problems in establishing sanitary disposal sites was the Israeli government, which does not approve of their locations. In most cases, the Palestinians want to put them away from residential populations, in Area C, which is under full Israeli military control.
Khateeb also asked Israel to facilitate the passage of dump trucks past military checkpoints and to give approval to more environtmental plans.
Baz said Israel would do what it could. "It's in everybody's interest," he said.
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