The reason for our water crisis

It is not the different lifestyles we lead, it is the discriminatory water policies.

water crisis (photo credit: REUTERS)
water crisis
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Earlier this month, I took part in a panel discussion on the water crisis affecting the Middle East. Along with representatives from Jordan and France, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Minister for Environmental Protection, was on the panel.
The theme was “equitable sharing and reasonable use of cross-border watercourses,” which goes to the very heart of the water dispute between Palestinians and Israelis.
The equitable allocation of shared water resources is a principle codified under customary international water law. It applies both to the underground mountain aquifers that straddle the 1967 line separating Israel from the West Bank, as well as to the coastal aquifer that runs the length of the Mediterranean coast and under Gaza. It also applies to the Jordan River Basin.
This principle means that wherever water crosses one or more borders, it must be shared fairly, and equitably and in a manner that respects the water rights of all those involved.
To most people, this would seem perfectly reasonable. Not to Gilad Erdan, however, whose performance helped explain why few in the international community believe the current Israeli government is genuine or capable of negotiating real peace, and why international support for UN recognition of a Palestinian state in September continues growing apace.
In particular, Erdan shamelessly tried to blame the severe water crisis affecting Palestinians on Palestinians, singling out for particular criticism the refusal of PA officials such as myself to meet with Israeli officials. His claims were repeated in The Jerusalem Post two weeks ago.
Water is actually one of the few topics on which Palestinian and Israeli officials meet on a fairly regular basis – in the form of the Joint Water Committee (JWC) – though Israel’s use of the JWC essentially to veto and delay Palestinian water projects leaves little to commend it. Israel is interested in domination, not cooperation*.
Indeed, in the same week Erdan was appealing for cooperation, his government destroyed eight Palestinian water wells in the village of Kufr Dan, imperiling its entire population, who rely on agriculture as their primary source of income.
Erdan’s support for illegal settlements built on occupied Palestinian land, further highlights the hollowness of his calls for cooperation. This includes his recent attendance at the inauguration of a new settlement in east Jerusalem, which is why I refused to meet with him.
The irony of Erdan’s accusations, of course, is that his government has all but suspended relations with the PA since the signing of the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas.
To understand the real reason behind the water crisis facing Palestinians, one must look to the host of discriminatory water policies and practices that Israel implements throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, that violate the legal principle of equitable and fair allocation of shared water resources.
The statistics speak for themselves. Israel illegally exploits 90 percent of our shared water resources in the occupied Palestinian territory, allocating only 10% for Palestinian use. As a result, some 9,000 settlers in the Jordan Valley consume approximately one-third of the entire amount of water Israel makes available to all 2.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank (see the latest report by B’Tselem “Exploitation and dispossession: Israeli policy in the Jordan Valley and North of the Dead Sea”).
While Israelis consume an average of 280 liters of water per capita per day, Palestinians are limited to an average of just 60 liters. Some Palestinian communities are forced to survive on a daily average of just 10 to 15 liters per capita – well below the World Health Organization’s recommended standard of 100 liters. As highlighted by the World Bank, Israelis consume four times more water than Palestinians for domestic use alone.
All these statistics point to the same phenomenon: Palestinians have far less water, not because our lifestyles are different, not because we refuse to meet with Israeli officials, and not because climate change has drained our natural water resources. Rather, it is because successive Israeli governments have engineered artificial water shortages throughout the occupied Palestinian territory by stealing water that is rightfully ours, by preventing the PA from developing essential water infrastructure, and by routinely destroying what little infrastructure we have, such as water wells, rainwater cisterns and treatment plants. Until these policies are reversed, solutions for water will remain elusive.
The tide of world opinion is turning, as more people recognize that prospects for a two-state solution are rapidly fading. Instead, settlements are carving out a very different future for both Palestinians and Israelis.
As Erdan tours the occupied West Bank drumming up support for even more settlements, be sure to know that what he advocates is not two states living side by side in peace and security. Without land and water, there can be no viable Palestinian state. Instead, Palestinians will continue to face severe water shortages and other forms of institutionalized discrimination as a result of the [] illegal policies Erdan is at such pains to conceal.
The writer is head of the Palestinian Water Authority.