The French water report

While the report's basic facts presented appear fair, the conclusion relating caused an uproar in Jerusalem.

Lebanese villagers play in water 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
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 Israeli-Palestinian relations.
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.
The most 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.
IT IS 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 report.
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 the Palestinians.
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 will take.
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.