On Friday, two Israeli policemen were murdered on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The same day, Seth Siegel wrote in The New York Times, “A Good Story about Israel and the Palestinians,” detailing how Israeli and Palestinians sat on a dais to announce an update on the Red Sea-Dead Sea project. Siegel, author of Let There be Water, is probably Israel’s greatest water expert, and his understanding of the challenges of water use and distribution in Israel and with its neighbors is unsurpassed. But what he passes off as a “good story” is simply the old story of Israel giving something to the Palestinians (and Jordan) in exchange for a phony smile.
The agreement includes no change in the Palestinian Authority’s nasty attitude or incitement to violence against Israel. No decision to stop paying terrorists for killing Jews. There was condemnation of Israeli security measures after the murders from P.A. strongman Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah of Jordan, and the Arab League – not a positive comment from any of them about the water project. The extent of the good news appears to be that Palestinian water officials were permitted to accept Israeli-generated improvements in Palestinian life.
Reviewing Siegel’s excellent book a year ago, I wrote:
Rawabi, a planned Palestinian community, is a case in point. Existing Palestinian-Israeli protocols require the two sides to meet to discuss new pipelines for the town, but for years the PA refused to convene a meeting on principle. After the developer was nearly bankrupt and the PA was telling the world Israel was withholding water from thirsty Palestinians, Israel finally just turned on the water. The PA called it a win, but for the Palestinians who invested in the construction of the town and the Palestinians who hoped to live and work there, the delay was no win at all.
Siegel acknowledges precisely that in the Times:
Beginning in 2008, the Palestinian leadership decided to turn water into a political tool to bludgeon Israel. The claim, which gained currency among some in the human rights community and the news media, was that Israel was starving Palestinians of water to oppress them and to break their economy. Never mind that Israel was scrupulously adhering to the Oslo Agreement and providing more than half of all of all of the water used by Palestinians in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority and its supporters began to speak of Israel’s “water apartheid.”
It did the same in Gaza, as I wrote then in covering Siegel’s book:
Gaza is a disaster ready to happen – happening already, in fact – between illegal wells draining the aquifer, salt water running in to fill the space, and lack of sewage treatment. When Israel had farms inside Gaza, the deal was to supply an amount of water to Gaza authorities equal to the amount used by the farms. When, in 2005, Israel left Gaza, the government continued providing the water – and later doubled the amount. But that doesn’t address the underlying issues.
The underlying issues are that a) Palestinian leadership – Hamas and the P.A. – is perfectly willing to force its people into misery; b) Israel can be counted on to ameliorate that misery to the best of its ability; c) to the extent that other people think Israel can do more to help the Palestinians, that’s where the remonstrance goes, not to Hamas or to the P.A. for causing the problems in the first place.
Expecting Israel to continue protecting the Palestinians from themselves, Siegel writes, “The strategic genius of the plan is that it weaves vital economic interests of these sometimes-antagonists together. Even should Jordan or the West Bank someday fall to radical rejectionists, it would be nearly impossible for those leaders to entirely break the water ties established here without creating substantial hardship for their populations.”
“Substantial hardship for their people” is not an impediment as long as Israel can be blamed. Cement sent by Israel to Gaza for reconstruction following the 2014 Hamas-initiated missile war against Israel has been diverted to build tunnels for Hamas terrorists. Hamas hid weapons in UNRWA schools and hid its leadership under the main Gaza hospital during the war. And it is the P.A. that generated the current electricity shortage in Gaza, causing horrendous discomfort for the civilians of the Strip. How much less “radical rejectionists” (as if Hamas isn’t a radical rejectionist) could care about civilians is unclear.
Richard Haas, chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, told the JewishInsider last week, “I would emphasize economic development in the West Bank. I would work with the Israelis on placing some restraints on where they build settlements. I would focus a lot with Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians on crisis prevention in Jerusalem.”
That’s the formula: economic development for the Palestinians and restraint on Israel. And “crisis prevention,” which might mean stopping murderous terrorism by Palestinians against Jews – or it might not. He wasn’t specific. Where is the burden placed on Palestinian leadership for the ruination of its own people?
President Trump’s envoy, Jason Greenblatt, has said Mr. Trump wants the Palestinian economy and quality of life to improve. Most people of goodwill do – clearly, the Israelis do. The actual “good news” in the good news story is that not for the first time or the second time, Israel will try to ameliorate some of the difficulties endured by Palestinian civilians caused by the well known nastiness of those Palestinians’ own leadership.