Israel and Palestinians sign water agreement while 70 world leaders chat

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Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, signing water agreement with Palestinian Authority’s Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh. (Photo: Facebook/COGAT)

Responding to recent shortages and a fast growing Palestinian population, Israel and the Palestinians reached an agreement Sunday to renovate and extend antiquated West Bank water infrastructure after six years without a functional Joint Water Committee.

The agreement came at the same time more than 70 world leaders in Paris failed to come up with any new contribution toward Israel-Palestinian cooperation, in what a British leader termed an ill-timed and counter-productive international Peace Conference, unattended by both Israel and the Palestinians.

The deal is the fourth such agreement between Israel and the PA in 18 months, after similar cooperation over electricity, postal services and 3G connectivity.

Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, said that such agreements are achievable “when dealing with practical, bilateral issues, free of external influences.” KNI recently reported on the Major General’s well received attempts to reach out directly to Palestinians in Arabic via Facebook.

Mordechai co-signed the agreement to restart the Israeli–Palestinian Joint Water Committee with the Palestinian Authority’s Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh. The agreement is to maintain, modernize and develop water and sewage infrastructure to allow for better access, especially in outlying towns and villages. It is also to approve new projects such as digging new wells, which Israel has in the past been criticized for being reluctant to do due to concerns over land, security and resource arrangements. The six-year hiatus in operating the committee has been blamed on Palestinian refusal to cooperate.

The committee was originally created as an interim five-year structure under the 1995 Oslo II Accord and as the basis for further negotiations towards a comprehensive peace agreement. Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the original objective was, ″To broaden Palestinian self-government in the West Bank by means of an elected self-governing authority [to] allow the Palestinians to conduct their own internal affairs, reduce points of friction between Israelis and Palestinians, and open a new era of cooperation and co-existence based on common interest, dignity and mutual respect. At the same time it protects Israel’s vital interests, and in particular its security interests, both with regard to external security as well as the personal security of its citizens in the West Bank.”

Significantly, the two sides also agreed on a joint strategic planning mechanism, operational until 2040, laying the foundations for long-term cooperation. And during recent wildfires in Israel the Palestinian Authority willingly provided fire trucks to Israel to help battle the blazes.

Whether the timing of this water agreement, however, was born out of a Palestinian desire to cooperate or out of mere necessity is unclear.

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments;
As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.”
Psalm 133:1-3