Public Participated in Session on Israeli-Palestinian Water Challenges
A community program that included keynote addresses rounded out the day's events on Sept. 1. University of Arizona's President Robert Shelton greeted about 225 people attending the community event. Ben Grumbles, director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, further extended the welcome. The keynote speakers were Uri Shani, director general of the Israeli Water Authority, and Shaddad Attili, chairman of the Palestinian Water Authority.
Attili, who was unable to attend the event in person, provided his message via DVD. Ayman Jarrar, director general for the regulatory and water control directorates of the Palestinian Water Authority, joined Shani at the podium to answer questions.
Shani described Israel's predicament confronting the dire consequences of ongoing drought
affecting the Middle East. “The trend is very clear, and we need to understand it. If we don't work on the future development of water, we don't solve anything. Demand is increasing, and the supply is decreasing, and we are left with no solution,” he said.
With brackish water threatening groundwater reserves, Shani said the importance of desalination as a water source has increased. Conservation measures, a national priority, have decreased Israeli water consumption. Agricultural allocations are half what they were nine years ago. Contributing to the conservation savings is the relatively minimal water lost to evaporation and leakage, about 10 percent in Israel compared to much higher rates in other areas of the developed world. The use of reclaimed water has also increased dramatically.
Attili discussed the precarious state of Palestinian water supplies. He said that water is a daily problem in the Palestinian Territories, with many communities lacking basic infrastructure for delivery of clean water and for water treatment. “We are trying to create a vibrant Palestinian state; our state will not be vibrant if there is not enough water.” He stressed the need for Israel to increase water allocations. Going beyond an acknowledgment of the political work to be done, Attili spoke of water supplies as a humanitarian cause. He said, “In the end of the day, it is a basic human need.”
Jarrar sounded a pessimistic note with regard to an immediate solution to Palestinian water problems. He said what is needed is “political will from both sides, which is unfortunately not available at this time.” He said, “We are suffering, and the time should come to end our suffering with regard to the water supply.” He expressed confidence in Uri Shani's willingness to work with the Palestinian Water Authority, but also made clear that final decidions on critical water issues were often politicized and made at a higher level of government than the water authorities.
The keynote session ended on a hopeful and conciliatory note. Despite the obstacles, Jarrar expressed optimism that trust can be built between the two sides, leading to adequate water supplies for both Israelis and Palestinians and contributing to peace in the region. Shaddad Attili also expressed confidence that he and the Palestinian Water Authority can work with Uri Shani and the Israeli Water Authority to resolve conflict in the area of water. Shani found significance in the fact that part of the conflict is about water. He said, "The general method to extinguish fire is to use water. I believe water can lead to peace, and this is my hope. Nobody promised us to have easy solutions, but it can be done.”
The AzIP workshop was organized to help both Israelis and Palestinians acheive the goal of resolving conflict over water and working together to find shared solutions.