By Jan Selby*
A new agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority gives Israel carte blanche to expand water provision for illegal settlements.
15 January, on the very same day that diplomats from 70 countries were meeting in Paris to reaffirm their support for the two-state solution, Israeli and Palestinian officials announced that they were restarting cooperation on water issues after a six-year hiatus. The Jerusalem Post called this agreement ‘a shining example of how cooperation on issues of quality of life can build trust’, while the UN’s Middle East peace envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, proclaimed it ‘an important step towards preserving the two-state solution’.
Unfortunately, and as so often, the truth is rather different.
To see why, consider the reason for the six-year hiatus: a 2010 decision by the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) that it would no longer be willing to approve projects for Israeli settlements brought before the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee (JWC). Under Article 40 of the 1995 Oslo II Agreement, which established the JWC, every new or expanded water facility in the West Bank – every well, pipeline and wastewater system – had to obtain prior approval from both Israeli and Palestinian representatives.
Article 40 was widely assumed, at first, to be just about Palestinian water needs in the West Bank. But in 1997, during Benjamin Netanyahu’s first stint as Israeli Prime Minister, Israel started making its approval of Palestinian water projects conditional on simultaneous Palestinian approval of settlement water facilities. Given the severity of the water shortages that were plaguing most Palestinian towns and villages, the Palestinians found themselves over a barrel. And they soon caved in.
*Jan Selby is Professor of International Relations at the University of Sussex. This post was originally published in openDemocracy.