Judea and Samaria

08.28.12

Ron Jager Responds to Kathleen Peratis

Kathleen Peratis's recent visit to Judea and Samaria, that is those communities located in what she calls the West Bank, has only reinforced the perception that Jewish leaders representing the Liberal left wing of American Jewry visiting Israel will always don their one-dimensional sunglasses upon landing at Ben-Gurion airport.

No other reasonable explanation can justify or rationalize the Pavlovian inclination to report on the settlers through the prism of politics exclusively, in which the notion of the “occupation” has become the defining lens through which everything about Israel is explained and justified. Sadly, the settlers' efforts to protect and maintain a precious resource such as water does nothing to dent or balance Kathleen's report of a complex reality.

The portrayal of the settlers entitled "The Settlement Movement and The Environmental Card" provides little in terms of hard facts and rehashes the same old worn out "invented narrative" by self-declared representatives of the "invented people," the Palestinian Arabs. As a founding member of JStreet, Peratis could have left her stereotypical beliefs about settlers for once on stand-by mode. She could have avoided ostracizing her Jewish brothers and sisters only because they are settlers. She could have presented the personal acquaintances and the heart-to-heart talks with settler leaders, settlers making organic yogurts, settlers fermenting world-class wines and pressing organic olive oil, and settlers who make an honest living and raising their children to live and love Eretz Yisrael, without apologizing.

Peratis could have reported at length about Dr. Yaakov Anker, a Ph.D. environmental researcher at Ariel University. Dr. Anker, whom I know personally, is a long time resident of Tel-Aviv, not religious, and accepted his current position out of a personal conviction that there needed to be a way to provide water solutions to Jews and Arabs equally. Dr. Anker, very much a non-settler, one of Israel's foremost experts on water preservation and sewage maintenance in Judea and Samaria, states unequivocally that “eighty percent of the pollution in the region (Shomron and Ariel) is from Palestinian villages.” This assessment is not a political statement but a scientific assessment and most likely represents the overall situation in all of Judea and Samaria. Yet Peratis is unable to highlight the Palestinian Arab's institutionalized and widespread lack of accountability and responsibility concerning protection of the environment and precious water resources. 

So let's look at the facts! The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies has produced an empirical study that deals exactly with the water situation between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. In the Mideast Security and Policy Studies No. 94, Haim Gvirtzman has produced a monumental report entitled "The Israeli-Palestinian Water Conflict: An Israeli Perspective." Make no mistake: the Israeli perspective does not diminish by one iota the validity and objectivity of the report.

The water arragements between Israel and the Palestinians emerged from the Oslo Agreement and were based on a simple premise: that saving precious water sources must be be based on a joint effort by Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). However, the PA and the local Palestinians have not held up their side of the bargain while Israel has not only fulfilled all of its obligations stemming from the 1995 Interim Agreement signed with the PA, but has met all water commitments requisite of a permanent status agreement as well.

As a result, there is almost no difference today in the per capita consumption of natural water between Israelis and Palestinian. The large difference that existed in 1967, when the administration of Judea and Samaria was handed over from Jordan to Israel, has diminished over the last 40 years and is now negligible. Furthermore, the per capita domestic water consumption of Palestinians is significantly higher than the minimum human needs defined by the World Health Organization.

However, while Israel has ensured that nearly all Palestinian Arab villages and towns are connected to running water, the Palestinians have violated their part of the agreement by refusing to build sewage treatment plants (despite available international financing). Moreover, the Palestinians have drilled hundreds of unlicensed wells and set up unauthorized connections to Israeli water supply pipelines.

Furthermore, the Palestinians have little basis for their water demands according to international legal norms. First, the signed water agreement overrules all other parameters. Second, Israel's historical possession of the Mountain Aquifer was established in the 1940s and is unconnected to the Occupation. Third, the Palestinians should not exploit groundwater from the Western Aquifer, which is fully utilized by Israel, before first exploiting groundwater from the non-utilized Eastern Aquifer. Finally, the Palestinians should be working to pay individually for their water consumption, to prevent leaks in domestic pipelines, to implement conservative irrigation techniques, and to reuse sewage water for irrigation. The fact that they have taken none of these steps and have not adopted any sustainable development practices precludes their demands for additional water from Israel.

The Israeli government believes that the water issue could transform from a source of controversy and tension to a source of understanding and cooperation. As with two previously signed water agreements (the permanent one with Jordan in 1994 and the interim one with the Palestinians in 1995), Israel wishes to achieve a practical and fair permanent agreement with the Palestinians. This paper has put forth a plan that can efficiently and quickly solve the current and future water shortages on both sides. The proposed plan would supply the sufficient quantity of water needed at least until 2030 and still leave some reserves.

I would suggest that rather than expending wasted energy in eternalizing the Palestinian Arabs as victims, lack of water being only the latest version of victimhood, Peratis and like minded Jewish leaders should direct their efforts towards transforming the settlers into human beings who fix leaks in the kitchen faucet, who pay income taxes, tune-up their cars and do a yearly road test. In doing this they will discover the vast similarity between the Jews who live in the Shomron and the Jews who live in on Long Island or even in Tribeca.

The natural inclination to report on the settlers exclusively through the prism of politics will become intellectually unbearable while conveying a reality that is much more complex then what is usually reported. What seems to be an impossible reality for Jews living beyond the green line is in actuality not so different from the towns that they themselves live in; for once they feel more common denominators transcending differences. Peratis and like-minded American Jewish leaders are welcomed to re-evaluate basic assumptions about who's minding the water resources here in Judea and Samaria.