Lebanese villagers play in water 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
On December 13 the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French National Assembly
published a monumental, 320-page report on the geopolitics of water, penned by
Socialist Member of the National Assembly Jean Glavany.
The report dealt
with two current international water conflicts: a conflict between Kazakhstan
and Uzbekistan over the Aral Sea Basin in Central Asia, and the case of the
Jordan River Basin, involving Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the West Bank.
In the case of the Jordan River Basin, most of the emphasis is on
While the basic facts presented in the
report appear to be fair, the conclusion relating to Israel caused an uproar in
Jerusalem – especially the title of a box within the report: “Water, Revealing a
New Apartheid in the Middle East.”
After analyzing the history of the
term “apartheid” and admitting that “Palestine is not South Africa, and 2010 is
not 1990,” the report nevertheless accuses Israel of conducting an apartheid
policy in the West Bank.
The report is critical of the disparity in water
allocation between 450,000 Jewish “colonial settlers” (in the words of the
report) and 2.3 million Palestinians. The report also accuses Israel of blocking
attempts by the Palestinian Authority to develop its meager water resources, and
sealing Palestinian wells and cisterns.
While the report admits that
Israel is acting most of the time within the framework of the agreements
relating to water resources in the Oslo Accords, it emphasizes the basic
injustice of Israel’s de facto control of their implementation.
worrying aspect of this whole affair is that while Israel knew all along that a
report was being prepared by the National Assembly, and although senior Israeli
water experts, as well as Minister of Energy and Water Uzi Landau, actually met
with MNA Jean Glavany when he visited Israel last May, no one in the Israeli
Embassy in Paris bothered to follow up progress on the report, or ask to see a
draft before it was published. The report was first seen in the Foreign Ministry
on the website of the National Assembly, several days after its publication.
Someone in the Israeli Embassy in Paris fell asleep on watch.
perfectly legitimate to argue that Israel’s occupation policy in the West Bank
has shifted since 1967 from one of benevolence to daily occurrences of brutality
against the background of objective security concerns. But while one could argue
that Israel is in breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention relating to occupied
territories, the situation is not as black and white as presented in the French
In the first place, the term “apartheid” applies when one
population group is systematically segregated and discriminated against in a
single, sovereign state. As long as the West Bank is not annexed to the State of
Israel, the term apartheid simply does not apply, though other strongly critical
terms might certainly be applicable when speaking of Israel’s conduct vis-à-vis
Even King Abdullah of Jordan, who recently stated that
in the absence of a two-state solution the result will either be with a single
democratic state, or a single apartheid state, avoided terming the current
situation as apartheid.
But there are additional facts that must be
emphasized. The first is that up to the Six Day War Jerusalem and most of the
West Bank were connected to running water only two or three days a week, so that
the situation today, despite the major increase in the Palestinian population,
has unquestionably improved.
The second is that even if Israel were to
distribute the available water equally between the Palestinians and the Jewish
settlers in the West Bank, and were to agree to share the aquifers more fairly
with the Palestinian Authority, the whole area of Mandatory Palestine (Israel,
Jordan and the West Bank) suffers from an acute water shortage, which can only
be resolved by means of effective regional effluent purification projects, and
massive desalination plants along the coast of Israel and the Gaza Strip. This
applies no matter what shape the eventual political settlement in our region
One final point ought to be mentioned. All the Israeli
Committees of Inquiry that investigated the water crisis in Israel in recent
decades, including the most recent National Committee of Inquiry on the
Management of the Water Sector, that published its report two years ago, failed
to deal with the regional issue, which is considered political, and therefore
outside the bounds of a purely professional investigation. This might prove to
have been a mistake, at least in terms of Israeli hasbara.
The writer was
a Knesset employee for many years, and wrote the final report of the
Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry on the Israeli Water Sector, in 2002.