Israeli, PA officials make waves about water resources

Water authorities express desire to work to reach acceptable joint water allocations, but cannot agree on the basic facts.

arava water reservoir (photo credit: Courtesy)
arava water reservoir
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Representatives of the Israeli and Palestinian water authorities expressed their desire last week to work to reach acceptable joint water allocations, but at the same time could not come to agreement on the basic facts. Dr. Yossi Dreyzin, consultant to the Israeli Water Authority, and Fuaad Bateh, legal adviser to the Palestinian Water Authority, were both responding to a World Bank report during a session at the Jerusalem Environment & Nature Conference 2009 on Wednesday. The report was released at the end of April. The session was organized by regional NGO Friends of the Earth Middle East, which has been very active in joint water issues for 15 years. A complicated and time consuming approval process by the Joint Water Committee (JWC) and the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria has severely hindered the proper growth of the Palestinian water economy, according to the World Bank report. The JWC needs to be revamped to balance it out, as Israel has far more influence there than the Palestinians, according to the report. As a result, JWC approvals and subsequent civil administration approvals have been held up for long lengths of time. One hundred forty three Palestinian Authority water projects are pending approval, including basic ones like fixing leaks, the report says. The Palestinian Water Authority also needs a serious reconfiguration and to "get back on track" handling infrastructure projects, the report says. World Bank representatives presented a summary of the document via video-conference from Washington at the session. With various numbers flying back and forth between Dreyzin, Bateh and the World Bank, it became clear that no one is in agreement as to the basic facts. How much water is available, who is taking how much and where they should get it from were all topic of dispute. One topic of debate illustrated the different policy priorities between Israel and the PA. Dreyzin described and advocated the Israeli plan to offer the PA land in Hadera to build a 50 million cubic meter desalination plant that would then transport water to the West Bank. He presented it as the best option for allocating additional water to the PA. Before becoming a consultant, Dreyzin headed the Israeli Water Authority's planning branch for many years. However, Bateh said it was unacceptable for a major Palestinian water source to be under the control of Israel. "If electricity and gas can be cut off, then so can water," he said. Moreover, it made little practical sense to transport water across the width of Israel when the PA sits atop the mountain aquifer, he contended. Instead, he demanded a "fair allocation" for the Palestinians from the mountain aquifer. The interim framework drafted as part of the Oslo agreements was no longer sufficient for the desperate needs of the Palestinians today, he said. At the same time, Bateh was very clear about the potential for negotiation and agreement. He noted that rather than being a fixed pie, water was a potentially expandable resource as desalination plants produced more water and shifted the availability away from just natural sources. Dreyzin also seemed to acknowledge the need to figure out how to divvy up the shared water resources. The frequency of JWC meetings has dropped very far down in recent years, averaging about once a year. The World Bank report was compiled, at the request of the PA, to provide insight into the problems and to help the Palestinian water economy get back on track. The Jerusalem Environment & Nature Conference 2009 was sponsored by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Jerusalem Municipality.