The outraged responses of members of the Israeli right wing party Ha’Bait Ha’Yehudi (The Jewish Home) following a comment by the President of the European Parliament Mr. Martin Schulz’s on water scarcity in the West Bank drew much media attention over the last couple of days. Rather than serving as an opportunity for serious discussion on a pressing issue that is so relevant to the daily lives of both Palestinians and Israelis, Wednesday’s events in the Knesset rapidly deteriorated into a political and media circus.
In his address at the Knesset Mr. Schulz mentioned he had heard that Israelis enjoy a water supply four times the supply of the Palestinians. In response Mr. Naftaly Bennet, Israeli Minister of the Economy, accused Mr. Schulz of defaming Israel. Rather than rushing in to start a fruitless fight over honor, the sensible thing to do would have been to start looking for the facts.
Assessing water consumption is complex, but according to our best analysis the municipal water consumption per capita per day in Israel in 2011 was 250 liters, while among Palestinians in the West Bank, after taking into consideration an average loss of approximately 30% of the water — due to theft and lack of infrastructure – it was 70 liters. The relation between the consumption of Israelis and Palestinians is indeed close to four times.
However, one should also take into consideration that the higher availability of water resources in Israel is also the result of Israeli leadership in water management. The Israeli water economy has dramatically transformed during the past decade, with Israel becoming the world leader in desalination and waste water treatment and reuse.
This is exactly the reason why, at a time when the Israeli water economy has excess water, Israelis and Palestinians should stop holding the solutions for water and other environmental issues hostage to the political process. Solving the cross border water issues would come at a low political cost to Israelis and with high political gain to Palestinians. Thus it is imperative that the Framework Agreement, as led by Secretary of State Kerry, include a paragraph on the urgency to resolve shared water and environmental issues in a manner that would replace the failed existing water management structure (the Joint Water Committee), set in place almost 20 years ago as an interim agreement designed to be replaced with a final arrangement 5 years later. In the meantime the population in the region has almost doubled itself, making this interim agreement irrelevant to the reality on the ground.
A new water management mechanism must provide Palestinians with a rightful share of the shared water resources (ground and surface water), and lead to rapid investments in sanitation solutions that are currently responsible for polluting scarce Israeli and Palestinian natural sources of natural water. Dozens such projects are presently stuck between the wheels of bureaucracy as a direct result of the failure to establish such a new structure.