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Israel, PA agree on plan to increase water supply to West Bank, Gaza

July 13, 2017 6:30 P.M. (Updated: July 13, 2017 9:59 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- An agreement has reportedly been reached between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Israeli Water Authority that will result in the flow of “tens of millions of cubic meters of water to the PA and Gaza,” according to a Thursday report from Israeli news website Arutz Sheva.

Arutz Sheva reported that the Red Sea-Dead Sea conveyance project, which was first proposed over a decade ago in an effort to study and amend the degradation of the Dead Sea -- which borders Jordan and the occupied West Bank -- was agreed upon under the mediation of the United States.

In 2005, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority sent a joint letter to the World Bank requesting a study to investigate the feasibility of reversing the environmental degradation of the Dead Sea by transferring water through a canal from the Red Sea.

US special envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt held a press conference lauding the agreement, saying “the US welcomes the agreement reached between the PA and the government of Israel which will allow for the sale of 33 million cubic meters of water from Israel to the PA."

The details of how the sales would be conducted and the larger implementation of the plan remained unknown.

"In addition, we hope that this deal will contribute to the healing of the Dead Sea, and that it will help not only Palestinians and Israelis, but Jordanians, as well,” Arutz Sheva quoted Greenblatt as saying.

Greenblatt went on to emphasize US President Donald Trump’s commitment “towards achieving a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” saying the agreement “is an example of the parties working together to make a mutually beneficial deal.”

The envoy highlighted the inauguration of a power plant in the northern West Bank district of Jenin earlier this week, saying that the plant, which was implemented following an agreement between Israel and the PA, was strongly supported by the Trump administration. 

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump's administration released a statement on Thursday welcoming the new agreement and said that Greenblatt had "successfully supported the Israelis’ and Palestinians’ efforts to bridge the gaps and reach an agreement on this vital issue." 

"President Trump has made it clear that working towards achieving a lasting peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians is a top priority for him, and he strongly believes that peace is possible," the statement read, adding that the White House has "urged the parties to undertake efforts to promote an environment that is conducive to advancing peace." 

This agreement "is another indication that the parties are capable working together to achieve mutually beneficial results," the statement added. 

Both the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip have experienced recurring and ongoing water shortages, as Israel controls the majority of the water supply to the Palestinian territory.

In the summer of 2016, the West Bank underwent dire water shortages after Israel’s national water company Mekorot cut water supplies in mid June.

At the time, Mekorot blamed the shortages on Palestinian “theft” and lack of coordination from the PA on infrastructure development.

However, Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq estimated in a 2013 report that up to 50 percent of Palestinian water supplies were diverted by Mekorot over the summer months to meet the consumption needs of Israel’s illegal settlements.

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 Al-Haq.

Last month, the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) accused Israel of affecting water access to parts of the central West Bank due to construction of segments of its illegal separation wall.

Meanwhile in Gaza, which has been under an Israeli land, sea, and air siege for 10 years, reports emerged in recent weeks of several beaches of the coastal enclave being closed to swimmers due to pollution after the territory’s sewage treatment facility was forced to close owing to a crippling power crisis.

Last year, the World Bank released a statement saying that only 10 percent of the population in Gaza had access to safe drinking water.

The situation has been further worsened by damage inflicted to the existing water infrastructure during Israeli offensives on the coastal enclave, the report said, highlighting that Gaza's infrastructure has yet to recover from the devastation of three Israeli offensives over the past seven years, and that the slow reconstruction of the besieged coastal enclave has only been worsened by the blockade.

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