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Water deal tightens Israel’s control over Palestinians

The agreement fails to address the fundamental concept of water as a shared resource, critics say

 

4 August 2017, 9:06am
The deal increases the amount of water that the PA can buy from Israel, but does not increase Palestinian access to water or infrastructure development (Photo: Reuters)
The deal increases the amount of water that the PA can buy from Israel, but does not increase Palestinian access to water or infrastructure development (Photo: Reuters)
It was hailed as a breakthrough, a rare display of regional cooperation, and a positive step that may pave the way for resuscitating talks between Palestinians and Israelis, which have been on hold since 2014.

But a recent water agreement, signed under the auspices of US President Donald Trump's Middle East envoy in mid-July, may actually cement Israel's control over water resources in the West Bank, experts say.

"The mindset with many US administrations has been that it's a victory getting a Palestinian and an Israeli in a room. It sells newspapers," said Diana Buttu, a former adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team. "What doesn't sell is someone looking at this with a critical eye and saying it's a terrible idea."

The recent bilateral water agreement would see Israel sell 32 million cubic metres of water to the PA - 22 of which would go to the West Bank for 3.3 shekels ($0.9) per cubic metre, while the rest is allocated to the Gaza Strip for 3.2 shekels per cubic metre.

Speaking to reporters in Ramallah on July 18, Ghoneim acknowledged that the deal is only a band-aid. "The crisis won't end until Israel's occupation ends and we secure our water rights in the three underground basins under Israel's control," he said.

Under the Oslo Accords, signed between Palestinians and Israel more than two decades ago, Israel retained control of most water resources in the West Bank (80 percent), with the remaining 20 percent going to Palestinians. But the accords, which were meant to be temporary, have left Israelis consuming four times more water per person than Palestinians.

Having left out this larger issue of Palestinian rights to water resources, the plan is being downplayed by some experts as merely a basic agreement to outline how much water the PA can buy.

"It is a simple commercial deal between Israel and the PA," said Jad Isaac, the director of the Applied Research Institute - Jerusalem, which promotes sustainable development through the management of natural resources

Critics have also warned that the plan does not address Israeli restrictions on Palestinian access to water and the development of infrastructure needed to address the water crisis in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinians in the West Bank consume only 70 litres of water per capita per day, well below what the World Health Organisation recommends as a minimum (100).

In the most vulnerable communities in Area C - those not connected to the water network - that number further drops to 20, according to EWASH, a coalition of Palestinian and international organisations working on water and sanitation in the Palestinian territories.