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Cablegate: Embassy Tel Aviv

VZCZCXYZ0001
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHTV #1636 2121152
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 301152Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7747
INFO RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHDC
RUEHAM/AMEMBASSY AMMAN 4528
RUEHJM/AMCONSUL JERUSALEM 0187
RUEAEPA/HQ EPA WASHDC

UNCLAS TEL AVIV 001636

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR NEA/REA and OES/ENV
USDA FOR FAS/OCBD/DRDAD
EPA FOR INTERNATIONAL
AMMAN FOR ESTH - BHALLA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV EAGR EINV IS
SUBJ: Knesset Seeks Scapegoats for Water Crisis

Ref: (A)Tel Aviv 1211 (B)Tel Aviv 242 (C)Tel Aviv 678

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. The Israeli water crisis is turning political as
the Knesset decided to form a special committee to determine who is
culpable for the present water shortage. Sitting GOI ministers
endorse the effort, which is likely to fault previous
administrations for their decisions to delay funding and
construction of additional desalination plants and infrastructure
projects. Comment: Although the present government would like to
see its predecessors faulted, there is plenty of blame to spread
among all parties, as well as poor consumer practices and possibly
changing weather patterns. The water crisis may become an issue in
Israel's coming domestic political reshuffling. End Summary.

2. (U) The State Control Committee of Israel's parliament (Knesset)
ordered the establishment of a special investigative committee to
review the origins of the serious water crisis facing Israel. In
requesting the investigation, the Knesset watchdog committee decided
that it was necessary to examine the failure to implement the
recommendations of many professional committees and previous
government decisions on the subject. After Israel's last water
crisis in 2002, the cabinet decided to establish large-scale
desalinization plants and targeted water conservation savings to
reduce household water use by at least 10 percent. In the
intervening years, however, neither happened. The special
committee investigating this lapse will also be requested to
formulate recommendations for the short and long-term in order to
ensure the regular supply of water to the citizens of the State.

3. (U) Zvulon Orlev, Chairman of the Control Committee, said that
the water crisis is not an unexpected accident, but rather results
from serious failures by generations of governments of Israel. (Post
has outlined the evolution of the present crisis in reftels.) Orlev
and some media analyses have faulted the Ministry of Finance for
preferring immediate economic considerations over long-term needs.
In the quest for balanced budgets, he claims the Finance Ministry
chose not to undertake the required investment in desalination
facilities, in rehabilitation of the aquifer, in more water
treatment plants, and in effective water conservation programs.

4. (SBU) Sitting Minister of National Infrastructure Binyamin
Ben-Eliezer favors formation of the special committee. In a public
statement he was adamant about determining the individuals at fault.
The best defense of his administration, he implied, is to have the
blame placed on those responsible - those previously in office.
Although last winter's disappointing rainfall - just 65 percent of
normal - may appear the proximate cause, Ben Eliezer points to the
longer term problems of pollution of reservoirs, overpumping from
deep water sources, and the decision four years ago to cancel plans
to build additional desalination installations. Had those
investments been made, the new facilities would shortly be coming
on-line. Lack of a clear public conservation campaign until now is
one charge leveled against the government that even the present
minister cannot dodge.

5. (SBU) Comment: The water issue has now been seized as a political
football with which to score points. Eliezer tries to gain points
for candor and good management, Knesset opponents try to score for
activism on a key issue and stress the Kadima government's inability
to redress the situation. Given that the weakened Olmert government
is heading into party and probably national elections, the water
crisis may become more highly politicized in coming months.

MORENO

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