Settlers and Palestinians Alike Spew Sewage in Fragile West Bank

Environment Takes Back Seat to Conflict Over Occupation

Unfit for Consumption: Palestinian children in the West Bank village of Wadi Fuki swim in water considered too polluted to drink.
nathan jeffay
Unfit for Consumption: Palestinian children in the West Bank village of Wadi Fuki swim in water considered too polluted to drink.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published July 04, 2013, issue of July 05, 2013.
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Khatib pointed his finger at Israel for the lack of Palestinian sewage infrastructure, saying, “Palestinians want to develop sewage facilities, but the Israelis are blocking any type of developments.” He added that Israel has given some indication that it will be more open to proposals involving Palestinians building sewage plants that accept some settler waste as well as Palestinian waste. But the Palestinians reject this idea on ideological grounds, said Khatib.

Asked to respond to the claim that Israel is holding back the Palestinians, Shor said that they are overstating the need for approvals. Several already approved Palestinian projects have not yet been built, Shor insisted, and Israel continues to consider Palestinian requests.

The Joint Water Committee, the mechanism established by the peace process of the 1990s to facilitate Israeli and Palestinian agreement for each other’s water-related projects, is hardly functioning today, as each side blocks most of the other’s proposals.

The blame claims don’t tell the whole story. Sometimes, as in the case of Palestinian projects that have been approved but are not in construction, there is no obvious reason for the holdup. Khatib could point only to “bureaucratic reasons.” And sometimes, the sticking point is financial, not political.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority said that of the 1.5 million cubic meters of settler sewage that it believes is going to the environment, a little more than half could be rendered safe by small treatment facilities that currently are not fully functional or in use at all. Eli Dror, the official who oversaw the authority’s new report, told the Forward: “Some places don’t have the money for the electricity; in others they don’t have the money for new parts or systems.”

Yet, beyond fixing these anomalies, it’s clear that for real progress, political cooperation is needed. The prospects for that right now are bleak. Clive Lipchin, director of the Center for Transboundary Water Management, at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, said: “It’s very difficult to be optimistic at this point. I don’t see a way out.”

Contact Nathan Jeffay at jeffay@forward.com


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