Can water end the Arab-Israeli conflict?

Could solving the water crisis in Israel and Palestine also help resolve the entrenched occupation and conflict? – Published on Al Jazeera, by Arwa Aburawa, July 29, 2011.

… Problem can’t wait for change in government policy:

Despite these Israeli policies, Bromberg and Al-Khateeb of FoEME insist that joint water community projects can’t wait for a radical shift in government policy – which, they add, is unlikely under the current right-wing Netanyahu-led coalition. “One of the most frustrating aspects of our work is to see the lack of political leadership at all levels,” says Bromberg. “It’s something we all have to deal with in the Middle East. Governments here don’t lead, they have to be led and civil society plays a crucial role in how that happens. 

“Community action is the way to create the political will because it embarrasses the government, it raises questions about why they are not doing enough and acting in the interests of their own community.”

Bromberg points out that both Palestinians and Israelis are suffering under the current water arrangements as the lack of waste-water infrastructure in the Palestinian territories means that Israelis have to deal with Palestinian sewage discharge. “The environment can’t wait for a final peace agreement,” he remarks.

Maybe not, but joint community action alone cannot change the Palestinian water dependency on Israel either says Amjad Aliewi, a Palestinian water expert at the Ramallah-based NGO House of Water and Environment. Aliewi insists that water will bring people together and encourage peace only if the Israeli government is willing to talk about Palestinian water rights and grants them full control over their own resources. “I mean, once we have that independence, if we want to construct joint projects and pipes then that it is fine – but we don’t want to solve the problem in a way that there is a pipeline and Israel controls the tap. That is not a solution.”

For Aliewi, Palestinian water independence must come first, as, without it, any co-operation is problematic. When I ask Aliewi if he thinks that Israel is over-extracting water from Palestinian sources because it needs the water or for political and economic reasons he replies that if Israel really needed the water it wouldn’t allow Israeli settlers to dump their sewage on Palestinian land and pollute shared water sources. “This is an act of occupation and it needs to end,” he adds.

The disparity of the water situation in Palestine is nowhere more apparent than in the illegal Israeli settlements of the West Bank – where settlers enjoy water on tap whilst Palestinians struggle to pay for water from tanks. Israeli settlers, however, fail to see a problem with the water situation.

Israeli’s deny water crisis:

David Ha’ivri, leader of the Jewish communities of Shomron which covers the northern West Bank, said he suspected that any notions of water disparity between Palestinians and Israelis were “misinformation spread by those interested in giving a twisted impression of the actual facts”. He pointed to a water park in a Palestinian town north of Tubas as evidence of the lack of water shortages in the West Bank, and said that Arabs needed to make the most of Israeli water infrastructure developments. Ha’ivri did however state that more mutual work to preserve water between Arabs and Israelis would be wise. Both Mekorot, Israel’s national water company, and the Israeli Water Authority were contacted but were unavailable for comment.

Whether community projects, political lobbying or a focus on Palestinian water independence is the way forward, it is clear that action is needed to rectify the scale of the water inequality between Israel and Palestine. As Bromberg states: “Peace won’t just fall upon us, we all need to be working towards creating a lasting, just and fair agreement on water.” (full text).

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