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Arab-Israeli water feuds get worse

April 16, 2010 at 12:58 PM   |   Comments

RAMALLAH, West Bank, April 16 (UPI) -- Israel's feud with the Palestinians over dwindling West Bank water resources stymied an EU effort this week to secure a water management strategy for the Mediterranean region where 290 million people face shortages by 2025.

Last month, Israeli troops killed a 16-year-old Palestinian and critically wounded another teenager in a clash with Jewish settlers over a well near the city of flash point city of Nablus.

That's an extreme case, to be sure. But it reflects the growing tension in the West Bank, which Israel is slicing up with its security barrier and annexing a large chunk of land Palestinians want for a future state.

The Palestinians claim Israel is stealing their water, while the 400,000 Jewish settlers are up in arms because they fear they will be forced to abandon the West Bank as part of a peace deal.

The March 20 bloodshed in Nablus, many fear, is a portent of the battle ahead as the water shortage goes beyond crisis, worsened by years of drought, growing Israeli requirements and on the Arab side, poor conservation and planning.

According to the World Bank, Israelis consume four times as much water per person as Palestinians.

In October, Amnesty International accused Israel of neglecting Palestinian infrastructure development and leaving 200,000 Palestinians without running water.

Jewish settlers use the same amount of water as 2.3 million Palestinians, Amnesty alleged. Israel denied the allegations.

By most estimates, half the water Israel consumes is taken from its neighbors, the Palestinians and the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in 1967 and annexed in 1980.

These sources are drying up and Israel needs to find new sources. One it has long coveted is the Litani River in south Lebanon, which at one point flows 2 miles from the border.

Even before Israel became a state in 1948, Zionist leaders had their eyes on the Litani, and wanted the Jewish state to extend deep into what is now Lebanon, amounting to around one-third of the modern-day state.

The Litani, along with the Syrian headwaters of the Jordan River, were considered to be vital for the economic well being of the future Jewish state.

Much of this territory was conquered in the 1967 war. Israel's invasions of Lebanon in 1978 and 1982 were motivated in part by the desire to control the Litani.

But that all ended when Israel quit south Lebanon in 2000 after 22 years of occupation.

The irony is that while Israelis and Palestinians scrap over the West Bank's overworked water sources, the Lebanese are literally letting their water drain away through inept management and failure to conserve or build a proper supply system.

Tiny Lebanon is relatively rich in water resources, with an average 73.5 billion cubic feet of renewable hydraulic resources.

"We use about half of that as drinking water or for irrigation and industrial purposes," said Fadi Comair of the Energy and Water Ministry. "The rest … is dumped in the Mediterranean."

He said that unless action is taken soon -- and there's no sign it will -- Lebanon could effectively run dry within four years.

And as water supplies dwindle, so tension between Israel and its neighbors, and between Arab states such as Egypt and their neighbors, will intensify.

Israel, technologically the most advanced state in the region, has major recycling projects. According to official figures, some 70 percent of recycled water is reused.

However, notes David Newman, professor of political geography at Israel's Ben-Gurion University, "There have been numerous incidents during the past 50 years in which water has been an added source of conflict … between Israel and its neighbors."

Two days before the 1967 war began, Israeli warplanes bombed a dam being built by Syria to block the Yarmuk River flowing into the Jordan and from there into Lake Kinneret, or the Sea of Galilee, which is Israel's main reservoir.

"The message was sent that any attempt to tamper with the natural flow of water into Israel would be seen as a casus belli," Newman noted.

Ghazi al-Rababah, a Jordanian political science professor, warned in late November that Israeli will go to war against Lebanon, Syria and Egypt over water, with a major conflict with Egypt for control of the Nile River within seven years.

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