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Palestinian-Israeli water committee to reconvene after years of PA boycott

Jan. 16, 2017 5:21 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 17, 2017 7:51 P.M.)
Water pipes in the Jordan Valley (Photo: Al-Haq)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, said in a statement Monday that he welcomed the signature of an agreement to renew the activity of the Palestinian-Israeli Joint Water Committee (JWC), towards improving the water infrastructure and supply for the occupied Palestinian territory.

“If fully implemented,” the statement said, “this agreement would be an important step towards preserving the two-state solution. I encourage further cooperation between the two sides which is critical to the viability of a future Palestinian state.”

“This, along with previous joint agreements on electricity, water, mail, and 3G cellular coverage, is in line with the Middle East Quartet’s recommendations.”

During an Israeli Knesset meeting last June held over a debilitating water shortage in the occupied West Bank, Israeli Water Authority Director Alex Kushnir blamed the Palestinian Authority (PA) for refusing to convene the JWC.

JWC was established more than two decades ago on a Palestinian-Israeli consensus system, which however enables Israel to veto any proposal by Palestinians to maintain existing water infrastructure or build new projects.

As a result of Israel consistently using its veto power to limit development of Palestinian infrastructure while throwing unconditional support behind development in settlements, the PA has boycotted the JWC for years.

Just half of Palestinian proposals for wells and improvement projects to the water network were approved by Israel between 1995 and 2008, compared to a 100 percent approval rate for Israeli projects, according to a 2013 report by Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq.

Israelis, including settlers illegally living in the occupied West Bank, have access to 300 liters of water per day, according to water rights NGO coalition EWASH, while the West Bank average is around 70 liters, well below the World Health Organization's recommended minimum of 100 liters per day for basic sanitation, hygiene and drinking.According to Amnesty International, nearly 200,000 Palestinians in the West Bank do not have access to running water.

Similarly, despite Israel and the Palestinian Authority signing an agreement in June 2015 to enable long-awaited 3G mobile access in the occupied Palestinian territory, Israel had so far refused to provide mobile phone operators with additional 2G frequencies, let alone 3G or 4G technology, which was offered to six Israeli companies in January 2015.

The lack of access to 3G mobile technology in the occupied Palestinian territory has long provided an added obstacle to economic and technological growth. A report released last year by the Palestinian think tank Al-Shabaka said that operators in Palestine lost an estimated $80 to $100 million annually as a result of the lack of 3G.

Meanwhile, Mladenov's remarks came a day after an international peace conference was held in Paris when officials from more than 70 countries reaffirmed their commitment to the two-state solution, in spite growing criticism of the paradigm as unsustainable and unlikely to bring durable peace, with many Palestinian intellectuals and activists having proposed instead a binational state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians.
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