Can water be a regional ‘game changer’?

Jared Kushner’s long-awaited ‘deal of the century’ is expected to be launched next month in Bahrain.

 According to reports, economic betterment will be on offer to Palestinians, but not political or human rights. Since Israel’s military occupation has been airbrushed away by the Trump Administration, neither it nor the question of Palestinian statehood are expected to make an appearance.

But water could. In a recent Al Jazeera piece Bill Law speculates that Jordan’s King Abdullah will be forced to accept the Kushner deal as a way of getting international support to cope with a collapsing economy and the worst drought in the area in 900 years. Ten of the 12 aquifers in Jordan are now practically depleted, and the Kingdom only has enough water reserves for 2 million people, not its current population of 6 million, including a million Syrian refugees.   

EcoPeace Middle East, which appeared before the UN Security Council on April 29 (see May 25 blog below), shares this notion that the region’s water crisis can be addressed apart from fundamental issues of Israeli military occupation and regional dominance.  

With some 40 paid staff and three co-directors, EcoPeace has offices in Tel Aviv, Ramallah and Amman, and seeks to create ‘good water neighbors’ who can work together to respond to the region’s environmental and water crises in the absence of movement on final status ‘peace process’ issues.  

For its Israeli co-director Gidon Bromberg, water is a potential ‘game changer’ for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the region as a whole.  As he told the UN Security Council, “Water cannot remain hostage to the failure to agree on other issues…let us set water free to give life and hope to our region.”

That ‘life and hope’ would come from Israel’s 21st century prowess in water technology (Bromberg calls Israel the ‘regional water superpower) and Jordan’s potential to seed its desert landscape with solar installations that can provide energy for desalination plants.

Where do Palestinians fit in? EcoPeace has made the case that dealing with their endemic water crisis is critical for Israel’s long-term health and stability.

Its arguments have been persuasive in some international quarters, including the US Congress.

After Gaza’s sewage washed onto Israel’s beaches, 14 Members of Congress took up the EcoPeace call and penned a letter dated July 13, 2016 to Israeli officials asking Israel to provide Gaza with additional electricity to run its waste treatment plant.

And following renewed consultations with EcoPeace, a bipartisan group of 10 Members of Congress, including Massachusetts representative William Keating, wrote a letter to Trump on May 21, 2017, shortly before he was to travel to Israel.

“In your effort to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” the letter stated, “we urge you to prioritise the issue of water….Progress on water is critical to the health and security of Israel.” 

The informative reports and articles on the water situation in the West Bank and Gaza compiled by EcoPeace reveal in considerable detail the enormity of the water crisis facing Palestinians. Especially in the case of Gaza, EcoPeace makes it clear that a humanitarian catastrophe there could have dire consequences for Israel itself, as presaged by the way Gaza’s sewage in 2016 clogged the Ashkelon desalination plant which provides 20 percent of Israel’s drinking water.

According to Ynet (February 26, 2019), a report on Gaza compiled by EcoPeace and the Public Health Departments of Ben-Gurion and Tel Aviv Universities “describes a scenario in which epidemics and infectious diseases plague the coastal enclave, prompting thousands of Palestinians to flee their homes or gather along the Israeli border, begging for medical treatment and trying to breach the fence.”

In her April UN Security Council briefing, the current Palestinian co-director of EcoPeace, Nada Majdalani, used the term ‘illegal settlements’ when she referred to the EcoPeace plan to make the Jordan Valley prosperous for all, and briefly alluded to a ‘two-state solution’ on 1967 borders.

But EcoPeace generally skirts any reference to political matters in its reports on the situation in Palestine.  

So what to do about the Gaza Strip? EcoPeace advises Israel to double the supply of water sold to Gaza, facilitate reservoir building, and increase the electricity supply with a high voltage cable from Israel directly to the Gaza power plant to insure this additional supply would not be diverted for other purposes. 

The virtual imprisonment of Gaza’s population by the 12-year-long Israeli siege is not mentioned.

EcoPeace’s form of what it calls ‘environmental peacemaking’ could bring about some concrete, gains, but it is no more likely than the ‘deal of the century’ to open the way to self-determination and lasting hope for the Palestinian people.

Nancy Murray