Thursday, May 28, 2009

An article about West Bank water in the 27 May 2009 UK Guardian newspaper

Israelis get four-fifths of scarce West Bank water, says World Bank
Palestinians losing out in access to vital shared aquifer in the occupied territories
Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem, Wednesday 27 May 2009 18.05 BST

A deepening drought in the Middle East is aggravating a dispute over water resources after the World Bank found that Israel is taking four times as much water as the Palestinians from a vital shared aquifer.

The region faces a fifth consecutive year of drought this summer, but the World Bank report found huge disparities in water use between Israelis and Palestinians, although both share the mountain aquifer that runs the length of the occupied West Bank. Palestinians have access to only a fifth of the water supply, while Israel, which controls the area, takes the rest, the bank said.

Israelis use 240 cubic metres of water a person each year, against 75 cubic metres for West Bank Palestinians and 125 for Gazans, the bank said. Increasingly, West Bank Palestinians must rely on water bought from the Israeli national water company, Mekorot.

In some areas of the West Bank, Palestinians are surviving on as little as 10 to 15 litres a person each day, which is at or below humanitarian disaster response levels recommended to avoid epidemics. In Gaza, where Palestinians rely on an aquifer that has become increasingly saline and polluted, the situation is worse. Only 5%-10% of the available water is clean enough to drink.

The World Bank report, published last month, provoked sharp criticism from Israel, which disputed the figures and the scale of the problem on the Palestinian side. But others have welcomed the study and its findings.

Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli head of Friends of the Earth Middle East, said there was a clear failure to meet basic water needs for both Israelis and Palestinians, and that Israelis were taking "the lion's share".

"The bottom line is there is a severe water crisis out there, predominantly on the Palestinian side, and it will be felt even worse this coming summer," Bromberg said at a conference on the issue in Jerusalem.

He said the Joint Water Committee, established in 1995 with Israelis and Palestinians as an interim measure under the Oslo peace accords, had failed to produce results and needed reform.

The World Bank report said the hopes that the Oslo accords might bring water resources for a viable Palestinian state and improve the life of Palestinians had "only very partially been realised".

It said failings in water resource and management and chronic underinvestment were to blame. In Gaza, the continued Israeli economic blockade played a key role in preventing maintenance and construction of sewage and water projects. In the West Bank, Israeli military controls over the Palestinians were a factor, with Palestinians still waiting for approval on 143 water projects.

"We consider that the efficiency of our aid in the current situation is compromised," said Pier Mantovani, a Middle East water specialist for the World Bank, which is an important source of aid for the Palestinians.

Most went on short-term emergency projects with limited long-term strategic value. It was a "piecemeal, ad hoc" approach, he said.

Yossi Dreisen, a former official and now adviser at the Israeli water authority, disputed the Bank's findings and said many remarks in the report were "not correct". He produced figures suggesting Israeli water consumption per person had fallen since 1967, when Israel captured and occupied the West Bank, while Palestinian consumption had risen.

Israel argues that the water problem should be solved by finding new sources, through desalination and water treatment.

"There is not enough water in this area," said Dreisen. "Something must be done. The solution where one is giving water to the other is not acceptable to us."

However, Fuad Bateh, an adviser to the Palestinian water authority, said Israel continued to have obligations under international law as the occupying power and should allow Palestinians water resources through an "equitable and reasonable allocation in accordance with international law".

He accepted that there was a lack of institutional development and capacity on the Palestinian side, but he said the Palestinians were caught in an unequal, asymmetric dispute. Palestinians had not been allowed to develop any new production wells in the West Bank since the 1967 war.

"Palestinians have no say in the Israeli development of these shared, trans-boundary, water resources," he said. "It is a situation in which Israel has a de facto veto over Palestinian water development." © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Netanyahu Chooses Warehousing by Jeff Halper

Netanyahu Chooses Warehousing
by Jeff Halper

Posted on the MRzine site on 25 May 2009

Would Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu say the magic words "two states" after his meeting with President Obama? All Israel held its breath. (He didn't). The gap between the two is wider than those words could ever have bridged, however. Obama, I believe, sincerely -- perhaps urgently -- seeks a resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, a pre-condition, he understands, to getting on with larger, more pressing Middle Eastern issues. Netanyahu, who rejects even the notion of a Palestinian mini-state as grudgingly accepted by Barak, Sharon and Olmert, is seeking a permanent state of "warehousing" in which the Palestinians live forever in a limbo of "autonomy" delineated by an Israel that otherwise encompasses them. The danger, to which we all should be attuned, is that the two sides might compromise on apartheid -- the establishment of a Palestinian Bantustan that has neither genuine sovereignty nor economic viability.

For his part, Obama seems to understand the strong linkage between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the hostility towards the West so prevalent in the Muslim world. His administration has been quite candid about the need to move forward on Palestine in order to deal with the Iranian nuclear issue, and his ability to withdraw from Iraq, stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan and deal with the challenge political Islam poses to the "moderate" Arab states also depend, to a meaningful degree, on forging a new relationship with the Muslim world , which requires an end to the Israeli Occupation.

Netanyahu and his Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have already presented the outlines of their new "reframing" of the conflict:

The Iran threat is preeminent, uniting the US and Israel into a strategic alliance and completely overshadowing the Palestinian issue;

Such "slogans" (as Lieberman characterized them) as occupation, settlements, settlers, land for peace and even the "simplistic" two-state solution must be abandoned in order to "go forward" according to a new slogan: "economy, security, stability" -- meaning improving the Palestinian economy while ensuring Israel's security. The stability that results (Lieberman invokes the "stable" situation between the Greek and Turkish populations of Turkish-occupied Cyprus as his model) will then somehow facilitate some future and vague peace process;

Israel will continue to expand its "facts on the ground." Just the day before the Netanyahu/Obama meeting the building of a new settlement was announced -- Maskiot, in the Jordan Valley, the first settlement to be officially established in 26 years. Two days after returning from Washington, Netanyahu further declared: "United Jerusalem is Israel's capital. Jerusalem was always ours and will always be ours. It will never again be partitioned and divided." It then announced that it will continue building within the "settlement blocs." Just a month before, on the day Hillary Clinton and George Mitchell were to arrive in the country, the Israeli government announced that it would conduct massive demolitions of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem. This "in your face" approach signals the Administration that Israel is not about to accept dictates, as the Minister for Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya'alon put it, testing just how assertive Obama will be.

Both the US and Israel seek broader involvement in the peace process by the Arab states, but once again, Israel has its own particular spin on that. While the US is formulating a comprehensive approach to peace and stabilization in the entire Middle East region (which King Abdullah of Jordan calls a "57-state solution" whereby the entire Arab and Muslim worlds would recognize Israel in return for a genuine end to the Occupation), Israel's formula of putting "economic peace" before any politically defined peace agreement tries to create a state of normalization between Israel and the Arab/Muslim world that would relegate the Palestinian issue indefinitely to the back-burner. Given the record of the so-called "moderate" Arab states, and given the opposition to a rising Iran they share with Israel, their involvement does not necessarily bode well for the Palestinians.
Then there are the mechanisms for delaying or undermining negotiations:

Creating insurmountable political obstacles, such as the demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a "Jewish state." Netanyahu well knows that the Palestinians will not accede to that, the fact that such recognition would prejudice the equal status of Palestinian citizens of Israel, a full 20% of the Israeli population, being an important consideration. The fear of further ethnic cleansing ("transfer" in Israeli parlance) is a real one. When she was Foreign Minister, Tsipi Livni stated clearly that the future of Israel's Arab citizens is in a future Palestinian state, not in Israel itself. And remember, last year the Israeli Parliament passed a law requiring a majority of two-thirds to approve any change in the status of Jerusalem, an impossible threshold. Similar legislation, supported by the government, will be passed on other issues such as dismantling settlements and ratifying any peace agreement.
Delayed implementation. OK, the Israeli government says, we'll negotiate, but the implementation of any agreement will wait on the complete cessation of any resistance on the part of the Palestinians. "Security before peace" is the way the Israeli government frames it. Since, however, there has never been any indication that Israel would agree to a viable Palestinian state, and since Israel views any resistance, armed or non-violent, as a form of terrorism, "security before peace" actually means "stop all resistance and you may get a state." The catch here is that if Palestinians do stop their resistance they are lost. Without Palestinian pressure, Israel and the international community would lack any motivation for making the concessions necessary for a genuine solution. And even if an agreement is reached, "security before peace" means that it will not be implemented until Israel unilaterally decides the conditions are ripe. This so-called "shelf agreement" erects yet another insurmountable obstacle before any peace process.
Declaring a "transitional" Palestinian state. If all else fails -- actually negotiating with the Palestinians or relinquishing the Occupation not being an option -- the US, at Israel's behest, can manage to skip Phase 1 of the Road Map and go directly to Phase 2, which calls for a "transitional" Palestinian state before, in Phase 3, its actual borders, territory and sovereignty are agreed upon. This is the Palestinians' nightmare: being locked indefinitely in the limbo of a "transitional" state. For Israel, such a situation is ideal, since it offers the possibility of imposing borders and expanding into the Palestinian areas unilaterally while seeming to respect the Road Map process.
Needless to say, all of this is to avoid a real two-state solution, the very idea of which is anathema to the Likud-led government. More than a decade ago Netanyahu set out his vision of Palestinian self-determination: somewhere between "state-minus and autonomy-plus." The best, if bleakest, term for what Israel is intending for the Palestinians is warehousing, a permanent state of control and suppression in which the victims disappear from view and their situation, emptied of all political content, becomes a non-issue.

Although the Obama Administration may truly desire viable two-state solution and even understands all Israel's tricks, it is also clear that without significant pressure it cannot be achieved. And here is where the real problem arises. Israel's trump card has always been Congress, where it enjoys virtually unanimous bi-partisan support. And Obama's own Democratic Party, which received almost 80% of the Jewish vote in 2008, has always been far more "pro-Israel" than the Republicans. It may well be that Obama and Mitchell will try to take American policy in a new and more assertive direction and the leaders of his own party will balk, fearful of not being re-elected.

In this case, the "compromise" between the desire to resolve the conflict and the inability to move Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories so that a viable Palestinian state may emerge may be nothing less than apartheid. The difference between a viable Palestinian state and a Bantustan is one of details. Already signs are that the Obama Administration will allow Israel to keep its major settlement blocs, including a "Greater" Jerusalem, and prevent the Palestinians from having sovereign borders with the neighboring Arab states. Since few appreciate the crucial meaning of such details, Israel believes that it can finesse an apartheid situation in the guise of a two-state solution. Over the past decades the job of civil society has been to force governments to fulfill their responsibilities and enter into a political process that will actually lead to a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Now that that process is upon us, our task is now to keep it honest.

Jeff Halper is the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at . The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions is based in Jerusalem and has chapters in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Response to article "Netanyahu Chooses Warehousing" by Jeff Halper

The following are comments made by me in response to an article entitled "Netanyahu Chooses Warehousing" by Jeff Halper in the 25 May 2009 posting of MRzine.

The nations of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon need to coordinate with the Palestinians and create a unified "Water Compact" for the entire region. The need for Israel to be involved in these discussions would bring the current government to the bargaining table much faster than any other method used in the past.
Israel needs not to solve any Palestinian question, nor indeed perhaps any Iran question, as much as it needs to solve it's long term water needs.
A "water compact" involving the flows of the Litani, Jordan and Yarmouk River basins and the use of the water table under the West Bank put under control of any "warehoused" Palestinians is really Israel's worst nightmare. Not to be invited to be a part of "that" process is the greatest lever the entire region has against any sort of settlement.
Finally, I for one, do believe the solution resides in a "two state" solution, but just not any where near the geographic form being considered to date. That form just does not provide for a viable Palestinian state for all the millions on the ground and still displaced. Palestinians will never need sovereignty over Nablus as bad as they really need sovereignty over perhaps Eilat and either Beersheba and/or Ashkelon. If 400,000 Israelis need to move for peace, perhaps everyone should consider another group of 400,000. And as to the West Bank, the "right of return" becomes the "right not to leave".

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My comment to Richard Z. Chernoff article.

I also believe that any solution to the conflict/refugee crisis should involve Jordan. But it is not enough to just cobble Palestinian territories to Jordan and be done. Is a combined Jordan/Palestine currently in any position to absorb the needs of 10 million displaced? Just enlarging the "aid" pool is no solution. Refugees in other countries must be also addressed. Enough is not being considered of what Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Lebanon should be willing to "give up" to create a viable homeland for Jordanians/Palestinians/Iraqi refugees. The current boundaries for West Bank and Gaza, even with "minor" adjustments, are just not ever going to work. Lack of defense, water, sustainability and the notion of two winners from any such current solution cannot be ignored. A much more comprehensive solution is needed. This involves the Northern West Bank remaining permanently within the State of Israel. This involves the newly formed premise of not the right of return, but of the right not to leave (for both sides). From the Arab point of view this also involves the giving of parts of their territory to the creation of a much more viable regional Jordanian/Palestinian/Arab homeland. These countries donating land and/or water compact treaties are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Lebanon, i.e. Israel giving the Golan not to Syria, but to Jordan/Palestine for a Syrian/Lebanese long term water development in the Litani/Jordan/Yarmouk basin.

Richard Z. Chernoff article about Jordan/Palestine in May 20 2009 Huffington Post

The Huffington PostMay 20, 2009
Richard Z. ChesnoffPosted: May 20, 2009 01:38 PM
A Stairway to Paradise: A Palestinian/Jordanian Union

Analysts are comparing Monday's White House meeting between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to a new couple's first dance. The duo went out of its way to avoid stepping on each other's toes and walked off the floor smiling broadly to the public. But O & N were far from mutually infatuated. Obama failed to warn about a military option if Tehran continues nuclear weapons development, and Netanyahu spoke about "immediate negotiations" with the Palestinians, but fell short of agreeing to Obama's impassioned call for a two state peace formula.

We're bound to be seeing more fancy two-way Terpsichore in the months to come.

One way up the stairway to Mideast paradise might be by reviving some old steps rather than tapping to ones that are certain to trip us up.

Take for example the idea that the long festering Israel-Palestine sore can be cured by simply establishing an independent Palestinian state. That might have worked a long time ago but the Palestinians have rejected it whenever it was offered and today they are so economically bereft and so politically divided between the PLO of Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas rejectionists of Gaza that the idea of a viable unified Palestinian state is all but doomed to failure.

The answer may not be in establishing a tiny politically unworkable, economically unsustainable demilitarized Palestinian state, but by forming one that exists in federation with neighboring Jordan. That idea has been around for years and often only whispered - or laughed at as it was when I broached it in a column of mine some years ago. But a few Palestinian, Israeli and Jordanian opinion makers are now beginning to talk cautiously again about renewing the so-called "Jordanian option": the establishment of an autonomous West Bank/Gaza Palestinian province/state linked politically, economically and even militarily to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Israeli political scientist Michael Bar-Zohar even proposed the idea recently in an op-ed column in the influential Jerusalem Post. A former Knesset member and the official biographer of both Israeli founding father David Ben-Gurion and current President Shimon Peres, Bar-Zohar points out that the total area of the West Bank is 2,270 square miles, less than half the size of Los Angeles county! A third of that paltry plot is desolate desert. "Does anybody believe that that this tiny slice of territory, sandwiched between Israel and Jordan will provide enough living space for the local 2.4 million Palestinians" - not to mention the millions of Palestinian refugees who supposedly want to return to a Palestinian homeland?

Bar-Zohar also points out that the mostly arid Gaza Strip - which is separated from the West Bank by a sizable stretch of Israeli territory - is a mere 141 square miles with 1.5 million Palestinians already living there. "Those who want to give them a decent chance in life", suggests Bar Zohar, will have to transfer good numbers of them to the West Bank. Would it be able "to absorb yet another million Palestinians on its poor, arid territory?"
Bar-Zohar's solution "goes far beyond the childish two state approach." He proposes a regional solution that would involve Jordan and possibly even Egypt. Jordan would federate itself with the West Bank. Egypt - which borders Gaza - would ideally involve itself by giving Gazans land to develop in the vast, empty spaces of Northern Sinai.

Linking Jordan and the West Bank would not be for the first time. The Hashemite Kingdom itself was carved out of the Palestine Mandate which originally included all of what is now Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and Transjordan. Jordan's legendary Arab Legion seized the entire West Bank during Israel's 1948 War of Independence (Egypt took the Gaza Strip). For 19 years, Jordan's King Hussein firmly ruled the West Bank as part of his kingdom (there was never talk of an independent West Bank Palestinian state back in those days).. During the 1967 Six-Day War, the Jordanian monarch foolishly listened to Egypt's Gamal Nasser and attacked Israel. The IDF promptly defeated the Jordanian forces and raised the blue & white flag over the West Bank.

Even then, King Hussein left his West Bank options open, claiming a "special relationship" as the official guardian of the al Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem's other Muslim holy places. Jordan also became home to more than 1.6 million Palestinian refugees and was one of the only Arab states to ever allow Palestinians to become equal citizens. Today, more than 60% of Jordan's population is of Palestinian origin -- including the kingdom's elegant young queen, Rania.

Jordan's Palestinian welcome mat has not been problem-free. During the 1970s, Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization became such a threat to the Hashemite king that Hussein launched a deadly counterattack, forcing Arafat and his band to retreat from Jordan.

Eventually, the late Hussein grew weary of Palestinian whining and manipulating. I was one of the foreign correspondents at the Hashemite palace in 1988 when he announced that he was "divorcing" the West Bank. The Palestinians would be on their own.

Hussein's son, the young King Abdullah, has never been as interested in the West Bank as his father once was. But Abdullah increasingly warns of a major new Mideast war if the Arab-Israeli conflict is not settled. And he is also said to understand that the Palestinians are presently incapable of ruling themselves. No doubt he doesn't want the Palestinians pushing him and his family out of their jobs. But he is believed to have taken a renewed interest in the West Bank and in finding a fail safe way to play a role there.

A Jordanian-West Bank union, in which some Palestinians loyal to the king could even serve in the Jordanian forces, may be just that. It will take US initiative. Why not offer financial compensation to West Bankers and Gazans willing to to move to unsettled parts of Jordan? Why not a border with Israel secured in part by Jordan? Why not a Palestinian West Bank and Gaza linked to Jordan with an economic union that bonds both to Israel's burgeoning economy?

Anything would be better than existing options offer the Palestinians: more bloodshed, more corruption, more hatred, more suffering for all sides.