Parched Palestinians say Israel withholding water
Shortage bringing more tension to Mideast peace standoffAugust 18, 1998
Web posted at: 5:53 p.m. EDT (2153 GMT)
From Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Water, or the lack of it, is emerging as the latest topic of dispute in the stagnant peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Palestinians allege that Israel is shortchanging their territory on water in a summer where the Middle East has been baking in a blistering heat wave.
Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat has told the Israelis that the water shortages are eroding public support for the peace agreements with Israel.
A Palestinian analyst said the water shortage also may be eroding support for Arafat.
"The water shortage shows the Palestinian people how bad the agreement is and consequently weaken Arafat," said Palestinian political analyst Gassan Khatib.
But Ariel Sharon, the infrastructure minister in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet, says Arafat is using the water shortage as an excuse to avoid tough decisions in the peace process.
"Arafat is looking for (an) excuse not to proceed with negotiations, though he knows exactly that the (Israeli) government is ready to move forward and to implement the second phase of withdrawal (from the West Bank)," Sharon said.
Israel controls virtually all the water supply allotted to Palestinian-controlled areas. Israeli water officials insist that they are meeting Palestinian water requirements.
"We are willing and we are prepared to respond to humanitarian needs whenever and wherever it's needed," said Israeli Water Commissioner Meir Ben Meir.
But Israel's responses don't wash with many Palestinians who have resorted to using polluted water.
A Palestinian water official says children and women have come to his office crying.
One woman asked, "'What (will) I do with my children?'" said Imad al-Zeer of the Hebron municipality.
The problem isn't likely to be alleviated until rains return to the region in November and December.
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