Fighting Anti-Israeli Bias

Countering
Item 7

THE UNHRC'S STANDING AGENDA ITEM
TARGETING ISRAEL

Claims

Claim 21: Israel steals Palestinian natural resources

examples

Iraq, 45th Session

“Iraq condemns the violations and the continuous escalation of the occupying power against Palestinian civilians…the theft of natural resources…”

Bangladesh, 45th Session

“We are witnessing with a deep sense of frustration the continued occupation… exploitation of Palestine natural resources have compounded their suffering, impoverishment, and underdevelopment.”

Arab Group, 45th Session

“The Arab Group condemns the violations and the continuous escalation of the occupying power against Palestinian civilians, including…stealing natural resources…”

Our Response

UN Watch

Although the above accusations were not specific as to which natural resources Israel is allegedly stealing, others campaigning on this subject have cited stone quarries and water. For example, Amnesty International has devoted an entire campaign on its website to Israel’s alleged theft of Palestinian water.[1] Similarly, Human Rights Watch accuses Israel of “exploitation of resources in occupied territory” through its West Bank quarries.[2] Michael Lynk, the UNHRC’s Special Rapporteur on Palestine, has also made these accusations.[3]

In fact, as detailed below, both Israel and the Palestinians have certain rights to the natural resources in the West Bank, as defined in the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, known as the Oslo II Accord, which was signed in September 1995 by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, and witnessed by U.S. President Bill Clinton as well as by representatives of Russia, Egypt, Jordan, Norway, and the European Union, and deposited with the United Nations.[4] The subject was specifically addressed under the Interim Agreement’s Annex III.[5] Other issues, including agriculture, fisheries, electricity and gas were also addressed in the Oslo Accords.

Quarries

Since the mid-1970s, Israel has been operating stone quarries in what the Oslo Accords defines as Area C of the West Bank, which is subject to Israeli administrative and security control. It is false to accuse Israel of stealing from the quarries because the Israeli rights to the quarries were obtained following examination of land ownership, adherence to statutory planning procedures and through a licensing process pursuant to the applicable Jordanian law.

Moreover, the Oslo II Accord, under Article 31 of Appendix 1 to Annex III, recognizes Israel’s rights in the quarries, and expressly authorized Israel’s continued operation of them. Article 31 provides that during the interim period, until overall control of the area is transferred to the Palestinians, the quarries would continue to operate as before, and any issue that arose would be addressed by a joint Israeli-Palestinian committee. Notably, until the decision of that committee, “the Palestinian side shall not take any measures which may adversely affect these quarries.”

This is also consistent with international law. Regulation 55 of the 1907 Hague Regulations, as well as military manuals from the U.S., the UK, Canada and other countries, recognize the right of an occupying power to administer mines and even benefit from the profits, provided that it does not damage or destroy the quarries.[6] As pointed out by the Supreme Court of Israel, even if Israel would continue to mine the quarries for the next 30 years, it would only use up about half a percent of the total mining potential in the area.[7] Moreover, in this case, cessation of mining activities could damage the existing infrastructure and endanger the ability of the Palestinians to work the quarries in the future. Hague Regulation 55 requires Israel to “safeguard the capital.” To do so, until overall control of the area is transferred to the Palestinians, it would seem that Israel must continue to operate the quarries.

Furthermore, a significant number of West Bank Palestinians benefit from the quarries either because they are directly employed by the quarries or their work is dependent on the quarries. Significantly, Palestinians also operate their own quarries in Areas A, B and C of the West Bank.

When Israel’s quarrying activities in Area C of the West Bank were challenged before the Israeli Supreme Court,[8] the Israeli government committed not to establish new stone quarries in the West Bank and to focus on restoring abandoned quarries to their natural state. It also committed to use the proceeds of the quarrying for projects in the West Bank for the benefit of both the Israeli and Palestinian populations to be overseen by the Israeli army’s civil administration in the area. The Supreme Court found that this was a political issue already addressed by the Oslo Accords, and that it could only be resolved through further negotiations.[9]

Water and Sewage Resources

The Oslo II Accord also addressed the issue of water and sewage rights. While it did not resolve ownership rights, leaving this for final status negotiations, it provided, under Article 40 of Appendix 1 to Annex III, that the two sides should “coordinate the management of water and sewage resources and systems in the West Bank” and form a joint committee for that purpose. Each side was authorized to maintain existing quantities of water utilization from existing resources. In addition, the Palestinians could take additional resources primarily from the Eastern Aquifer. They were also to develop their own additional water resources, to prevent waste and deterioration of water quality, avoid harming the water resources and sewage systems of either side and to treat, reuse or properly dispose of sewage.

The claim that Israel steals Palestinian water resources is false. In fact, it has been shown that the Palestinians steal water from Israel, and not the other way around. [10] Instead of drilling in the Eastern Aquifer as allocated to the Palestinians, or developing new water resources as required by the Oslo Accords, they have drilled several hundred unauthorized wells in the Western and Northern Aquifers in violation of the Oslo Accords, harming Israel’s water supply and the surrounding environment. The Palestinians also steal water directly from Israel’s national water company, Mekorot, by tapping into its pipes, thereby harming the water supply to both Israelis and Palestinians.

Moreover, Palestinian use of water has been characterized by waste and mismanagement. The Palestinian Authority has a history of failing to fix water leaks, collect and treat sewage, conserve water used for agriculture, or collect payment for water from most Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The PA could easily solve its water problems in the West Bank by drilling the Eastern Mountain Aquifer, fixing the main leaks in their pipes, collecting and treating their urban waste and implementing drip irrigation technology for agriculture.[11] They could do the same in Gaza. Furthermore, the international community has offered to build a desalination plant in the Gaza Strip which, according to water expert Haim Gvirtzman, “could completely solve the Gaza Strip’s water shortages,” but the Palestinians originally opposed this on political grounds.[12] According to recent sources, construction on the project is in the very early stages.[13]

Finally, this accusation ignores that Israel and the Palestinians have been working together to resolve water issues. For example, in July 2017, Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed a U.S.-brokered water-sharing deal pursuant to which Israel agreed to sell to the Palestinians 32 million cubic meters of water annually at a reduced price. Palestinian Water Authority head Mazen Ghuneim welcomed the deal.[14] This was part of a larger trilateral agreement between Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan for construction of a pipeline to transfer water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. The parties had originally signed a memorandum of understanding concerning the Red Sea-Dead Sea project in 2013. Regrettably, despite this cooperation, the issue of water has been politicized by certain campaign groups, leading to the false narrative reflected in the accusations above by the Arab Group, Bangladesh and Iraq.[15]

[1] The Occupation of Water, Amnesty International (November 29, 2017), https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2017/11/the-occupation-of-water/.

[2] Sarah Saadoun, The Gaping Hole in Jared Kushner’s “Peace Plan,” Human Rights Watch (July 3, 2019), https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/07/03/gaping-hole-jared-kushners-peace-plan.

[3] Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, UN Doc. A/HRC/40/73 (March 15, 2019).

[4] Letter dated 27 December 1995 from the Permanent Representatives of the Russian Federation and the United States of America to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General, UN Doc. A/51/889; S/1997/357 (May 5, 1997), https://peacemaker.un.org/sites/peacemaker.un.org/files/IL%20PS_950928_InterimAgreementWestBankGazaStrip%28OsloII%29.pdf.

[5] The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Annex III (last visited December 24, 2020), https://mfa.gov.il/MFA/ForeignPolicy/Peace/Guide/Pages/THE%20ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN%20INTERIM%20AGREEMENT%20-%20Annex%20III.aspx.

[6] Hague Convention IV Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its Annex: Regulations Concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land, Article 55 (October 18, 1907), https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/ihl/WebART/195-200065.

[7] Yesh Din v. Commander of IDF forces in the West Bank, Case No. 2164/09 (Israeli Supreme Court, December 26, 2011).

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Prof. Haim Gvirtzman, The Truth Behind the Palestinian Water Libels, The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (February 24, 2014), https://besacenter.org/perspectives-papers/truth-behind-palestinian-water-libels/.

[11] Id.

[12] Id. See also Myths vs. Facts: NGOs and the Destructive Water Campaign Against Israel, NGO Monitor (March 22, 2015), https://www.ngo-monitor.org/reports/myths_vs_facts_ngos_and_the_destructive_water_campaign_agaist_israel/.

[13] Focus Areas: Water, Office of the Quartet (last visited December 24, 2020), http://www.quartetoffice.org/page.php?id=5e2231y6169137Y5e2231; see also Gaza desalination plant: UFM flagship project ready for implementation, EU News (June 30, 2020), https://www.euneighbours.eu/en/south/stay-informed/news/gaza-desalination-plant-ufm-flagship-project-ready-implementation.

[14] Jeffrey Heller, Trump envoy announces Israeli-Palestinian water deal, silent on peace prospects, Reuters (July 13, 2017), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-palestinians-usa-water-idUSKBN19Y1EZ; Raphael Ahren and Melanie Lidman, Israel, Palestinians reach landmark water deal for West Bank, Gaza, Times of Israel (July 13, 2017), https://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-palestinians-reach-landmark-water-deal-for-west-bank-gaza-strip/.

[15] Myths vs. Facts: NGOs and the Destructive Water Campaign Against Israel, NGO Monitor (March 22, 2015), https://www.ngo-monitor.org/reports/myths_vs_facts_ngos_and_the_destructive_water_campaign_agaist_israel/.

UN Watch

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