Friday, February 15, 2013

Water: Israel’s true barrier to peace, which needs to be urgently overcome.



            When it comes to the topic of peace in the “Holly Land”, we repeatedly hear of the same topics.  We hear about the issue of the final status of Jerusalem.  We hear about Israel’s insistence to retain some portions of the land occupied since 1967.  We hear of the repeated claims that Israel has no “true” partner for peace in the Palestinian camp.  Israel also demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel not only as a state, but as a Jewish state, which is something we would not even contemplate for other countries. Germany declaring itself not a federal, but a German state? I could just see the accusations of racism coming in fast and furious.  There are of course other excuses for not wanting to make peace, including claims of strategic military considerations, which are just excuses and nothing more.  Israel does not currently have any neighbors capable of challenging its military might, courtesy of the US taxpayers, who are obliged to provide $3.5 billion in annual military aid.   

We also hear the demands of the Palestinians to get all land occupied since 1967 as their state and the evacuation of the Jewish settlers from the West Bank.  We hear about the right to return of the refugees, which Israel regards as unacceptable, because Jews would eventually lose their ethnic and religious majority.

  These are all important issues, which need to be resolved in order to be able to make peace.  There is however one obstacle to peace, the solution to which is the first and most important step towards having any chance of solving the rest of the issues, and come to a resulting final settlement.  Yet we never hear about this problem be discussed as an impediment to peace, because it is simply not convenient to talk about it.  The silence on this issue, is in my view the best indicator of which side is the most reluctant to make peace.  It is the side that benefits from not reaching the two state solution.

Israel’s addiction (the occupation):

            Israel consumed about 1.7 billion m3 of water in 2010. 350 million m3 of that came from the Mountain aquifer located in the occupied West Bank (a policy that leads to Palestinians using on average four times less water per capita than Jews).  Even more water is extracted annually from the occupied Golan Heights.  Israel therefore is not currently a viable state, without its plunder of the occupied territories, for the most precious resource in the region.  It is an issue that never gets talked about in discussions in regards to an eventual peace, yet without a solution to this problem, there can be no peace.  It is ironic that finally this issue came up during the latest Israeli elections, when a right wing nationalist party decided to refer to this issue in order to strengthen their argument against making peace.  I say that it is ironic, because those who do seem to want to make peace, be they Israeli, or public figures worldwide, never seem to be eager to talk about it, even though, ordinarily issues of sustainability are more of a left wing topic.

            It is understandable of course that mainstream Israeli politicians are not at all eager to discuss this topic.  It is much easier to invoke arguments regarding biblical legitimacy to the land, the religious and cultural importance of Jerusalem, safety and defense concerns and other obstacles they can point to as excuses to maintain the status quo.  Their job is made easy given the unwavering and unconditional support given to them by the US government.  Every time an incident occurs between the Jews and the Palestinians, the US is always front and center, spearheading the efforts to justify and legitimize whatever the position and actions of Israel might be.  So in their perception, for as long as the US remains the dominant global superpower, Israelis do not have to face up to the reality, which is that they are living on the back of the plunder from occupied lands, and they would be unsustainable as a state without it.

            Due to recent changes in the Muslim World, the policy of continued occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights can have disastrous consequences for the region and the world.  For the past three decades, US diplomacy managed to keep key Arab players in a state of non-involvement with this issue.  Keeping an autocratic government in check however is different than convincing the average citizens of these countries that what has been going on with the Palestinians is alright.  Until recently, it was quite irrelevant what the average Arab citizen thought, because these governments were not in any way receptive to them.  Since the Arab spring, all that is now in the process of changing.  There will still be autocratic regimes, but their survival will depend on people’s perception of them, to a much greater extent than it used to.  In the not too distant future, there will come a point when these autocratic, or newly semi-autocratic regimes (such as Egypt), will have to show that they are in tune with their own subjects, and they will have to take a stand against, Israel’s continued occupation of neighboring territories.  At that point, things will most likely become very uncomfortable for all of us, so it is critical that we avoid reaching that point.

What to do?

            There is only one possible solution to this problem, and that is a correction in the flawed approach to supporting Israel, taken by the US government.  Instead of giving them military aid, with which to push their neighbors around, why not give them infrastructure aid so they can desalinate sea water?  According to 2012 official EIA data, Israel currently has 300 billion m3 of natural gas, while many other estimates put that tally much higher.   One m3 of natural gas can produce about 3.2 kilowatt hours.  It takes about that much to produce one m3 of desalinated water.  So in effect, they could convert their gas riches to water at a ratio of one m3 of gas, to one m3 of water.  This means that they would have potentially 300 billion m3 of water or 175 years worth of consumption at the current rate of about 1.7 billion m3 per year.  I should point out that Israel already has desalination plants currently in use, and there are more being built, but we need to have this process accelerated, and we need to understand clearly that these plants need to take the place of water extraction from the occupied territories, not supplement and encourage more consumption. 

            I am not proposing of course that they should allocate all this gas to desalinated water production.  They could start off, using gas, and in time they could turn to renewable energy, such as solar to supply the energy needed by the desalination plants.  I simply pointed out that natural gas is currently available in plentiful quantities, so they could do without water from the occupied territories.  The only thing that is needed is a new approach, not so much from them, because we should not expect that to happen.  Desalination facilities are far more expensive than extracting water from underground, without having to pay the Palestinians for it.  Israel would never take this approach without being given a reason to.  The rarely spoken truth is that from the vantage point of the Israelis, there is absolutely no advantage to be had by securing a peace, but to the contrary, they would be forced to give up on the potential opportunity to take the entire West Bank as their own.  Giving Israel aid only for the right purposes is the only way we can finish with this long lasting dilemma, to which it seems there is never an end in sight.  We need to do this, because for as long as there is this continued conflict in which the Western World is indirectly involved in, through the unconditional support of Israel, we will not be able to settle our own issues with the Muslim World.  We need to do just that however, because if by chance many have not noticed yet, the cost of not getting along in a cordial manner is increasingly high, and it is also dangerous, because we are living in an increasingly dangerous world.  As is the case with most other problems we seem to be unable to tackle, it is also true in this case that we need some fresh ideas and perspectives, because the old ideological lines are failing us.

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