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Saturday, March 22, 2003

Forum tackles water access


Staff writer

OTSU, Shiga Pref. -- Among the many issues delegates to the World Water Forum are debating is how to deal with conflicts between tribes and nations over limited water supplies.

On Friday, water conflict between Israel and Palestine, one of of the world's most complex political problems, was the subject of discussions here.

Since September 1995, when the Oslo II accord was signed between Israel and Palestine, the two sides have been increasingly at odds over the subject of water rights. The fundamental issue is sovereignty, according to Anjad Alawie, an official of the Palestine Water Authority.

"Palestinians need to have the right to supply their communities with water, which we do not now enjoy, even in the West Bank, which is our land," he said.

Under the 1995 agreement, Israel does not recognize Palestinian water rights in the West Bank; both sides agreed these rights would be negotiated separately and at a later date.

On Israel's side of the fence, the fundamental problem is that there is simply not enough water to supply the Palestinians.

"Since 1999, there have been draughts almost every year," said Moshie Yizraeli, an Israeli official and adviser on water issues to the Israeli government.

"If you want to blame Israel, go ahead; it won't bring you any more water."

Loay Froukh, a Palestinian who holds Jordanian citizenship, sees it differently.

"Go to the Palestinian territories and you will see Israelis in nice homes with plenty of water," he said.

Both sides admitted that there has been some progress since 1995 in helping the Palestinians obtain water. A joint water commission of Israeli and Palestinian water experts reviews requests from the Palestinian side for water projects, particularly wells.

"Israel has approved 18 of 80 requests for well-digging projects," Alawie said.

In the final ministerial statement, to be released Sunday, the Palestinian side hopes to receive some backing for its right to access its own water. But the directness of the language used in the statement will almost certainly be debated by Israel and other countries in the region.

"We would hope that countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Syria will raise the issue in the minister's conferences this weekend," Froukh said. "Perhaps some sort of a general statement about water security and sovereignty in the region might be possible."



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