In listing the threats Israel would face from a Palestinian state, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu prominently mentioned control over its water resources. The Palestinians, said Netanyahu in his speech on Sunday at the Likud Central Committee meeting, would be able to pump water at Israel's expense, or contaminate it with untreated waste.
A threat to our water resources is of course of vital importance, and the water reservoir Netanyahu was referring to - the mountain aquifer - does indeed supply over 25 percent of Israel's drinking water. Since Netanyahu explained he was having a serious discussion intended for serious people, his claims must be examined seriously, and we must check whether this is a real threat and how it can be faced.
If for the sake of the debate we accept Netanyahu's deterministic scenario, then the state of Israel is destined to receive large quantities of untreated Palestinian waste, which will be sent down the rivers to contaminate the water resources - a sort of ecological weapon on the road to implementing the Palestinian "phase program" for destroying the state of Israel.
The logical flaw in this scenario is that the water the Palestinians also use the water they would be contaminating. Since they would not be able to control the contamination it would harm the Palestinian population too. In recent years we have seen a reverse process that while slow and problematic, certainly serves the Palestinian interest of not poisoning the water they themselves drink.
In several of their cities and with international financing, they have begun setting up plants for treating waste. True, the Palestinians refused to set up joint purification plants with Jewish settlements, but the political logic behind such their refusal to help perpetuate the settlements is easily understood.
Regarding recurring Israeli claims of water contamination caused by Palestinian waste, it is worth noting that during its years of direct rule in the territories, Israel never set up waste treatment plants. Nor did it set them up inside the state of Israel, thus causing the severe contamination of the coastal aquifer - another important source of water.
Only in recent years has Israel set up such purification systems, partially reducing the pollution of the Yarkon River. And only at the beginning of this year were more strict regulations on the flow of untreated waste to the Kishon River finally implemented.
Even if Palestinians fail to establish a proper infrastructure for treating their waste, this still does not constitute an irreversible threat to Israel's underground water resources. In that eventuality, Israel could collect the Palestinian waste itself, even using it - after treatment - for agricultural irrigation.
Netanyahu further referred to the threat of over-pumping, which could reduce the quantity of water reaching Israel. Such a threat cannot be dismissed, given Israel's struggle with Syria about the sources of the Jordan River before the 1967 war, and more recently, when the Lebanese began laying pipes to draw extras water from the Hatzbani River. (In March last year Israel sent a sharp message to Lebanon via the UN, warning it against diverting water from the Hatzbani).
The solution to this problem would of course be a cooperation agreement to ensure water resources are divided in a just and logical manner, allowing the Palestinians to meet their needs and gradually raise their per-capita water consumption, if the standard of living in the Palestinian state rises. Setting up desalination plants could help create enough water for both sides. According to Netanyahu logic, there is no chance of this happening because a Palestinian state would inevitably plot against Israel and covet any resources it is dependent on. In that case, what needs to be examined is the actual ability of the Palestinians to expropriate large volumes of water at Israel's expense.
Unlike Lebanon, which could severely damage Israel's water resources by simply diverting them, Palestine would have to operate a network of large drills over the mountain aquifer to pump large quantities of water from it. Such a network is expensive and dependent on permanent infrastructure, and would be impossible to operate against the will of a close and concerned neighbor. Furthermore, over-pumping of the underground waters of the mountain aquifer would raise their salinity and thus rob the Palestinians of their sole water resource - a fact perfectly well known to their hydrologists.
During the intifada reality has proved that regarding the water resources, both sides have maintained a sane attitude by cooperating and not trying to deliberately cut off supplies. Even if one assumes that a Palestinian state would be hostile toward Israel and insane enough to harm water resources vital to itself as well, it would not be able to cause immediate damage to Israel's water resources.
If the Palestinian state were to launch a systematic, long-term attack on these water resources, Israel could react as it did in the past. Those who supported a Palestinian state being established would understand the necessity of firm action to ward off such a threat.
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