J Street puts spotlight on ‘solving’ the regional water crisis

By Nancy Murray, Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine member

Water is regarded by the group EcoPeace Middle East as “the low-hanging fruit of the peace process” and they are enlisting the American lobby J Street to help sell the idea to Congress.

On May 18, the US lobbying group J Street hosted a conference call with speakers from the group EcoPeace Middle East discussing the grave water shortage in Jordan and Palestine.  

Yana (no last names were given) focused on the Jordan Valley, the pollution of the much diminished Jordan River that has all but killed the Dead Sea, and the water situation in Jordan, which she said was the second most ‘water poor’ country in the world.  

Nada talked about the catastrophic water situation in the West Bank, where Palestinians were only permitted to access 10% - 13% of the Mountain Aquifer shared with Israel.  She described how Israel tightly controlled the water infrastructure in the 60% of the West Bank termed ‘Area C’ under the Oslo agreement, and how some 80 % of Palestinians had to purchase water from the Israeli national water company Mekorot, which favored settlers over Palestinians.  In Jericho and the surrounding refugee camps, some families paid their entire salary for water, often as much as $300 a month.  

The water crisis in the Jordan Valley – which had been the food basket of Palestine – has severely hurt the economy, and, she said, the situation is getting worse as Israel continues to destroy the Palestinian water infrastructure.  

Kidon, an Israeli member of EcoPeace Middle East, maintained that it was essential to solve the water problem given the fact that water is “an issue of animosity” and the “sense of water injustice helps feed the conflict.”

The good news, he said, is that disparities in water allocation can be solved at “low political cost” thanks to the technological advances that have given Israel a water surplus.  Some 70% of Israel’s drinkable water now comes from desalination plants and it is a world leader in sewage treatment.  Israel can, he stated, share water more fairly without hurting its agriculture.  

“Moving forward on water is the low-hanging fruit of the peace process,” declared Kidon.  Not only can Israel improve the water situation for every Palestinian, it can help itself by improving the Palestinian sewage situation: “This is an issue of self-interest.”

How much water should Israel be prepared to allocate to Palestinians?  According to Kidon, Palestinians should “get close to 50%” – 5 times the amount they now receive.

EcoPeace hopes to work with J Street to educate the American public and Congress, and make the case that a fair distribution of water is the “easiest way” to move the peace process forward.

J Street seems to be gearing up to play this role.  On July 18 it will host the second part of the water discussion: this time with a focus on the Gaza Strip.