Local Jewish and Arab leaders in the Nazareth region and Jezreel Valley said this week they intend to work together to protect the environment. Their plan to join forces at the municipal level has won the support of the Environmental Protection Ministry.
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But while Israelis, both Jews and Arabs, are trying to cope with environmental problems, the situation is different on the other side of the Green Line. There the story of a new garbage dump shows how Israel is trying to force the Palestinians to join the settlers in solving environmental problems.
On a hill overlooking the Judean Desert east of Bethlehem, a site for storing refuse is being built. Called Al Minya, it will replace environmentally unfriendly sites and take in the garbage of cities and settlements in the Hebron and Bethlehem region. The facility is being built with World Bank funding, and Palestinian entrepreneurs will operate it.
The Palestinians have insisted for years that they will not share environmental infrastructure with settlers; in this way, they would avoid legitimizing the settlements. Still, over the years they have had no choice but to share refuse sites with settlements. Two of these sites are still in operation.
Al Minya is one of three new facilities that are supposed to serve the Palestinians exclusively. One of them is already in operation in Jenin, while another, Rimonim, is due to be built east of Ramallah. All are being built with funding from the World Bank or other international organizations. Israeli planning and environmental authorities have decided that Al Minya will also serve the settlements.
According to Nitzan Levy, CEO of the Municipal Environmental Associations of Judea and Samaria, there is economic and environmental sense to Israelis and Palestinians operating waste sites together. He says that without taking in waste from the settlements, the Palestinians will have a hard time operating Al Minya because their towns are hard-pressed to pay for storage.
Levy recently wrote that an attitude of cooperation, which already exists at some sites, should be adopted. "Joint solutions that private entrepreneurs carry out will probably provide the optimal solution through differential pricing for Israelis and Palestinians, reflecting the economic gaps between the sides," he wrote in an article.
According to investigative journalist Dror Etkes, who follows the settlements, it's clear a tacit understanding exists between the World Bank and the Civil Administration that settlers will also use Al Minya.
"The attempt to ease Israel's maintenance of the 'temporary' occupation of the West Bank and its numerous economic costs allows that same occupation to continue and become less temporary," he said.
It's still unclear whether Al Minya will serve the settlements, but the debate raises problems tied to the legal reality beyond the Green Line. It's about implementing a law for encouraging local authorities to opt for recycling over storage. Because this law does not hold sway in the Palestinian territories, the settlements have little economic incentive to recycle. They'd rather transport the waste to storage sites like Al Minya and pay a much lower fee.
Environmental authorities in the settlements recently suggested that the government enforce laws on waste in the settlements. A step like this would provide financial assistance to encourage recycling, but it would further strengthen the settlements.
In response, the World Bank West Bank & Gaza Program said: As in all World Bank grants awarded to the Palestinian Authority, the beneficiary of the World Bank Program in the Palestinian Territories is the Palestinian people. The Bank funds are disbursed through the Palestinian Authority and the latter is responsible for the implementation of the project. In this particular case, the beneficiaries for the project 'Southern West Bank Solid Waste Management Project project (Al-Minya)' are strictly the Palestinian residents of the Bethlehem and Hebron Governorates. There are no other residents in the area benefiting from the waste management project.
The World Bank said that all grants given to the Palestinian Authority are intended for the Palestinian population. "The funds are transferred to the authority, and it is responsible for the implementation of the project. In the case of Al Minya, it is only intended to serve the residents of the Bethlehem and Hebron districts."