Monday, February 04, 2013

4-Feb-13: Water management as warfare

The glass is arguably half empty, but also half full.
Either way, there's no doubt someone was paid
to fill it, and that money has gone somewhere.
Where? [Image Source]
Last summer, we wrote here about a campaign of allegations against Israel by, and in relation to, the terrorist regime in Gaza. The immediate trigger was a troubling essay published in Australia by the local correspondent here for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, Ruth Pollard. We made efforts to engage her in discussion about it but got no response, and eventually resorted to publishing a rejoinder (entitled "Muddying troubled waters") to her claims in a different Australian paper. See "5-Jul-12: Needed: Bridge over troubled Gazan waters". Her own editors declined to consider publishing our op ed, but were kind enough to offer to pass it along to the letters editor down the hall.

Now there are some startling revelations about the exploitation of the water issue. They appear in a Jerusalem Post article by the well-connected freelance writer, Yochanan Visser. See "How water became a weapon in Arab-Israeli conflict" in yesterday's Jerusalem Post. The whole piece is worth reading if, like us, you believe that an understanding of who is and is not doing intelligent things with water is a key to understanding who does and does not want peace and a decent life for all the people living in this neighbourhood.

Visser points to a change in the conflict-management strategy of the Mahmoud Abbas regime that occurred in 2008. This arose from certain recommendations made to the PA in a report by The Palestinian Strategy Group called “Regaining the Initiative”. It proposed that the key to getting on top in the endless cognitive warfare waged by the Arab side is to discontinue the old approach - negotiation and terror (the report calls it “resistance”) and to replace them with “threat power”, an approach that entails "the refusal to cooperate and the push for boycotts" in Visser's words. "Disinformation about the Israeli settlements in the West Bank spearheaded this campaign", he says, and he goes about persuasively demonstrating how.

Visser focuses on the arguments over water and its management, and brings to the table an academic research thesis written by a Swiss graduate of the Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. The title is “The Politicization of the Oslo Water Agreement” and the author is Lauro Burkart. 
  • The two sides established the Joint Water Committee (JWC) in the mid nineties. Its goal: to handle all water and sewage related issues in the West Bank [source]. The JWC was composed of an equal number of representatives from Israel and the Palestinian Authority with agreement to be reached by consensus on all matters. Within that framework, the responsibility for water resources in nearly all of the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank passed from Israel to the Palestinians.
  • The JWC functioned well enough in the first years. But from 2008 onwards, cooperation came to a halt. Burkart writes “There is convincing evidence of mismanagement within the Palestinian Water Authority”; it never managed to gain control over many of the Palestinian Arab municipalities (Israel has no control there) since, in Visser's words, those holding the reins of power did not want to lose control of the water systems in their jurisdictions.
  • The result today: "The water supply is not centralized and illegal drilling is rampant. The fact that the PA pays most of the water bills of the Palestinian population gives no incentive for saving and leads to an unreasonable use of water in the domestic sphere as well as in the agricultural sector."
  • The head of the PWA is Shaddad Attili, appointed in 2008. Visser, quoting Burkart's findings, says Attili, affiliated with Fatah, is responsible for the de facto terminating of cooperation with Israel as a means of bolstering Palestinian water rights claims - and to strengthen Fatah's position after it was eclipsed by Hamas in the 2006 Palestinian elections. (Note that those were the first and so far only such elections to the Palestinian Arab legislature.)
  • Burkart says the policy executed by Attili "is conducted at the expense of the marginalized and peripheral Palestinian population which is suffering from water shortages. Burkart writes that the abundance of donor money allowed Atilli to continue the noncooperation strategy which has lead to a complete stagnation of the water negotiations during the past five years."
  • "One of the results of the refusal to cooperate with Israel is that almost all of the 52 mcm of waste water generated by the Palestinian population flows untreated into Israel and the West Bank, where it contaminates shared groundwater resources." In reality, most of the Palestinian waste water treatment and reuse projects received foreign funding support, including wholehearted supported from Israel. The facts notwithstanding, the Palestinian Arabs continue to claim that their waste water infrastructure is blocked by Israel. 
  • Visser: "The EU has allocated funds for at least seven waste water treatment plants. It is reasonable to assume that the Europeans would have some oversight on the execution of these projects – so why did they not demand accountability from the PWA? 
Sometimes translating the flow of events into money terms helps people better understand what's happening. Millions of Euros have been, and continue to be, provided by European taxpayers to the Palestinian Arabs. The funds are provided because, as a matter of political policy, it's considered good to have the weaker side build up its vital infrastructure and become stronger, healthier and more successful. But this fails to take into account that the weaker side sees its own weakness as a strength in the larger battle - the cognitive war. It must perpetuate that weakness in order to prevail in that larger, ongoing war. And it must recruit journalists and government officials to help it spread the disinformation that makes cognitive warfare possible.

The principal victims, as ever, are those described above as the marginalized and peripheral parts of Palestinian population: the poor, the very young, the aged, the non-politicians. The leadership of Palestinian Arab society prefer them to endure foul water so as to continue to nourish and give expression to the sense of permanent victimhood, the resentments, the envy and the hatred that hold their political power base together.

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