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Cablegate: Embassy Tel Aviv

DE RUEHTV #3595/01 3551355
P 211355Z DEC 07





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJ: Israeli-Palestinian Water Issues - Preparing for Bilateral
Water Negotiations and the Trilateral Water Working Group Meets

Ref: Tel Aviv 2323

This message is SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. Please handle


1. (SBU) During his December 4-7 visit to Israel, NEA Senior S&T
Advisor Charles Lawson discussed a range of water and environment
issues with senior Israeli and Palestinian water/environment
officials. Regarding upcoming Israeli-Palestinian bilateral water
negotiations, both Palestinian Water Authority Director Fadel
Ka'awash and Israeli National Water and Sewage Authority Director
Uri Shani in separate meetings told Lawson that they still are
waiting for the go ahead from their respective leaderships to form
water negotiating teams. While there is real potential for
relatively quick progress in water negotiations, both Ka'awash and
Shani expressed great concern that no progress will be made if the
Negotiation Support Unit has the lead on water for the PA. End

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2. (SBU) Lawson chaired a meeting of the U.S.-Israel-Palestinian
Trilateral Water Working Group (TWWG) in Tel Aviv on December 5
(Memorandum of this meeting repeated in para 6 below). Shani and
Ka'awash noted a growing shortage of natural water resources due to
both increasing demand and climatic factors. Shani and the Israeli
team stressed the linkage between water supply and the collection,
treatment, and reuse of wastewater. Both sides agreed that the
Hebron Wastewater Project, which the USG stopped when the Hamas
government assumed power, should be re-started as quickly as
possible, and they urged the USG to fund the project again. The
Palestinian delegation stressed the need for greater supplies from
Israeli sources, and asked the Israeli delegation if the Gaza
connector project to supply five million cubic meters of water from
Israel to Gaza could be restarted. Progress on implementing the
priority water projects identified at the July 19 TWWG meeting (Ref
A) was noted, and the access of materials and spare parts for such
projects has improved, parties agreed. End Summary.

Bilateral Water Negotiations - Great Potential for Progress, but Its
Not a Given
--------------------------------------------- -----
3. (SBU) In separate meetings on December 4, Lawson discussed
upcoming bilateral water negotiations with Palestinian Water
Authority (PWA) Director Fadel Ka'wash and Israeli National Water
and Sewage Authority (INWSA) Director Uri Shani. When queried, both
Ka'awash and Shani said that they had not yet been given a mandate
by their political leaders to form water negotiating teams.
Ka'awash expressed concern about the possibility that the
Negotiation Support Unit (NSU) will be given the lead on water
negotiations. The NSU's approach to water, he said, emphasizes
legal rights and entitlements under international law for riparian
states. Ka'awash noted that if he and the PWA lead the water
negotiations for the PA, he will emphasize practical solutions to
the water problems, rather than take "the more academic and
legalistic NSU approach." He noted that the PWA's responsibility
managing Palestinian water resources and its long, productive
working relationship with Uri Shani and the INWSA, should facilitate
the negotiations. In a separate meeting with Lawson, Shaddad
Attili, NSU water attorney/advisor, stressed the need for
reallocating resources Israel presently uses, chiefly the mountain
aquifer and the Jordan River. Attili expects any bilateral
negotiation to tackle the reallocation issue first, and only then
pursue the matter of new resources and access to desalination

4. (SBU) Shani told Lawson that even though the GOI has not yet
named him to lead the Israeli water negotiating team, he expects to
receive that mandate and is already making preparations for the
negotiations. (Note: Former Israeli head water negotiator Noah
Kinnarti told Lawson that Shani asked Kinnarti to be an advisor on
the Israeli negotiating team. End note.) Shani expressed concern
about whether or not Ka'awash will be given the lead of the
Palestinian water negotiating team and, if he is given the lead, how
much real authority he will have. Shani, like Ka'awash, expressed
concern about the possibility that the NSU could play a major role
in the negotiations.

Report of the Trilateral Water Working Group Meeting of December 5,
--------------------------------------------- ----------

6. (SBU) Begin text of TWWG Meeting Report


TEL AVIV 00003595 002 OF 004

The U.S.-Palestinian-Israeli Trilateral Water Working Group (TWWG)
met at the offices of USAID in Tel Aviv on December 5, 2007. A copy
of the agenda and participant list is attached to this memorandum.

Welcome & U.S. Presentation

The U.S. Delegation, led by NEA Senior S&T Advisor Charles Lawson,
welcomed the participants and underscored the USG's continued
commitment to helping the two parties on water issues. The recently
completed Annapolis Summit saw Israeli and Palestinian leadership
agree to reopen Final Status talks, which will presumably include a
negotiating group on water issues. Progress on water issues could
therefore make a key contribution to progress in the overall
Annapolis process, Lawson noted, making the TWWG's work even more
important. The Israeli and Palestinian delegations both recognized
the value of the TWWG and its work in facilitating progress on water
issues. The JWC has met several times since the July TWWG to
address specific issues.

Status of Water Resources

Israeli National Water and Sewage Authority Director Uri Shani
reviewed the status of the region's water resources, observing that
low rainfall in the previous several years has left Eastern and
Western aquifers and Lake Tiberias all at historically low levels.
These low levels translate to a shortage over the last several years
of approximately 200 million cubic meters (MCM) out of a shared
natural water storage capacity of about 500 million cubic meters
(MCM). Lake Tiberias is only 50 cm above the lowest level at which
Mekorot's pumping station intake can operate. This is one reason
the Israeli government has decided on investments to increase
desalination capacity from 130 MCM per year to 500 MCM per year.

Head of the Palestinian Water Authority Fadel Ka'wash agreed that
the water situation was worsening, noting a big drop in wells in
Hebron and lower per capita availability throughout Palestinian
areas. Ka'wash stressed the importance of Israeli cooperation on
outstanding water projects in the West Bank and Gaza, as over 12
percent of the West Bank's population still lack direct access to
water. Gaza water resources are in a particularly bad situation, he
noted, as the Gaza residents extract between 155 and 165 MCM/year
(the sustainable recharge is only approximately 55-60 MCM/year).
Ka'wash noted that there are over 4,000 illegal wells are in use in
Gaza. This can be expected to lead to higher salinity in the ground
water in future years. Ka'awash urged that a planned connection to
Gaza from the Israeli National Water Carrier be revived, as this
would provide an additional 5 MCM annually.

The Israeli delegation confirmed that Mekorot presently supplies
some water to the Palestinian Water Authority and encouraged better
water management. They noted it was the political situation in
Gaza, not technical problems, that had stopped progress on the Gaza
connector. Ka'awash asked Shani if he would check to see if the GOI
leadership would be willing to re-start the Gaza project. Shani
also outlined the risk to the shared aquifers by Palestinian
overpumping and lack of West Bank wastewater treatment capacity.
Israel currently receives and treats effluent originating in the
Hebron region - most of which comes from Israeli settler areas. The
Israeli delegation suggested that any new freshwater supply project
for the PWA be linked to a counterpart waste water treatment
project. This would both protect the shared resources and address
the supply needs by encouraging treated water reuse.

USAID Deputy Director David Harden informed the meeting that the
funds originally planned for the Hebron Wastewater Treatment project
had been reprogrammed for humanitarian need projects during the
Hamas government period. It is unlikely that funding for this
Hebron project will be available in 2008 or 2009. Harden noted that
the priorities for USG assistance had been decided in consultation
with the Palestinian leadership. Both Israeli and Palestinian
delegations expressed disappointment upon hearing this news and
requested that the United States consider the Hebron wastewater
treatment project a priority for USG funding in the coming year.

Priority Projects Moving Forward

The Palestinian Delegation observed that a number of the immediate
need, small water projects detailed by the August 14, 2007, Joint
Working Committee has moved forward and some have been completed.
Coverage of West Bank water needs varies greatly by region. Tulkarm
and Jenin in the north are poorly served, while Bethlehem and Hebron
in the south are better served. The Ramallah region population is
growing rapidly, the PWA head noted, moving from 100,000 to 250,000
in recent years, with current supply from Israel being approximately
32,000 m3 daily while the needs have increased to approximately
42,000 m3.

TEL AVIV 00003595 003 OF 004

Both parties believe access to spare parts and piping for water
projects has improved. However Ka'awash noted that the PWA
submitted a list to the JWC of spare parts and equipment needed for
some 133 wells in Gaza. Currently, 8 wells of those wells are out
of operation due to lack of parts, and the PWA expects that more and
more wells will become inoperable unless the spare parts are
available. The Israeli delegation claimed that COGAT was approving
materials rapidly when well documented. The Israeli delegation
agreed to offer a full report on implementation of the JWC projects
at the next TWG.

Status of Gaza Bank Wastewater Treatment

All three parties were pleased that the final plans for the North
Gaza Emergency Project of USAID had been approved by the IDF and
COGAT on December 4. If all equipment is, in fact, allowed to enter
Gaza, the U.S. Delegation said the project should be completed in
six weeks. This project, along with a complementary World Bank
project, will help avoid effluent reservoir failure during the rainy
season that has just started. COGAT had received and approved the
lists of materials for access. The U.S. noted that it is concerned
for the safety of the contractors who will build the new
infiltration pond, as there have been numerous fence line shooting
incidents in recent months.

Ka'awash said he remains concerned about delays in implementing the
World Bank North Gaza Project. Pipes for the WB project are
procured in France, which causes delays in shipment and transfer to
Gaza. With up to four months to import and install the piping, he
thought June 2008 is an optimistic date for the availability of the
new World Bank emergency wastewater handling capacity. His
implication: the USAID interim project may be needed beyond the June
2008 target date for when the USAID constructed pond would no longer
be needed.

Other Issues

Ka'awash suggested trying to identify a neutral location with easier
access for both Israelis and Palestinian to facilitate access for
the two parties' regular meetings and future negotiations.
Regarding the West Bank, Ka'awash wanted to see the $4 million North
Nablus project funded, and see the eight wells now sitting idle due
to lack of spare parts back on-line. Organizing better training for
PWA is a crucial need, Ka'awash said; a venue on the border, nearer
to Ramallah, easier for PWA personnel to access would be very
helpful. Better training and better information would bring the two
sides together.

Next Meeting

The parties agreed that holding TWWG meetings on a quarterly basis
would be useful. Accordingly, the next Trilateral is expected in
mid-March. Israeli and Palestinian Delegations agreed to seek to
establish more regularized schedules for the holding of Joint
Technical Committee (JTC) and JWC meetings.

End of text of TWWG Report.

Other Issues

7. (SBU) In a December 6 meeting, GOI Director General of the
Ministry of Environmental Protection (MOEP) Shai Avital told Lawson
that there needs to be closer coordination between the MOEP and the
PA. The shared aquifers are just one circumstance of the
interlinked policy reality. Plans to clean up the Kidron River will
only be possible with PA cooperation he said, as will be cleaning up
the pollution reaching Israel from Hebron. Avital urged the USG to
fund the Hebron Wastewater Treatment project. Responding to the
GOI's request for the USG to fund the Hebron waste treatment
facility as a priority, Lawson stressed to Avital that if this
project is a high priority for the GOI, this message must conveyed
by the GOI leadership. Uri Shani, who attended the meeting with
Avital, said he was thinking that the GOI could address Palestinian
sewage problems by building plants to treat their wastewater, with
the PA then being charged for such services through the revenues
that Israel now collects on behalf of the PA. Shani emphasized
again that all future Palestinian water supply projects must be
linked with wastewater treatment projects to properly treat the
additional supply.

8. (SBU) Avital also observed that environmental issues were closely
linked to territorial delineation; oversight and legal enforcement
of environmental regulation depended on clear jurisdiction. Shani
profoundly stated that boundaries not well defined are well

TEL AVIV 00003595 004 OF 004

polluted. In the absence of clear responsibility, pollution
increases and enforcement is weak. Lawson took note of this
concern, and said environmental enforcement merits consideration as
a possible topic for a future regional environmental training

9. (U) Consulate General Jerusalem cleared this message.


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