Yesterday’s New York Times front-page feature about the amazing advances made in desalinization by the state of Israel provided some hope for those who believe that global warming and the prospect of more droughts leaves humanity with a grim future. Only a few years ago, Israelis were concerned about the question of how they could continue to grow their first world economy with a growing population in a country where there simply wasn’t enough water. What followed was a major investment in technology and enactment of sensible policies about water use that led to this startling fact. As the Times states, “More than 50 percent of the water for Israeli households, agriculture and industry is now artificially produced.” Though water is expensive, the prospect that the country will run out is gone. In a region that is in desperate need of Israel’s expertise, you would think this development would lead to better relations with the Palestinians and the Arab world. But what is missing from the Times’ story is the fact that there is little sign of any interest in cooperation on the part of Israel’s antagonists. As much as they ought to take advantage of the Jewish state’s advances, such concerns are always secondary to their main priority: fighting Israel.
The story of how Israel revolutionized its production and use of water is another proud chapter in the country’s history. In the past couple of decades as attacks on Israel’s legitimacy have multiplied, we haven’t heard much about Jews making the desert bloom. That old line about the rebirth of this old land under the care of a returned people has been treated as an outdated cliché by biased journalists who preferred story lines that reinforced the libels about Israel being an apartheid state. That theme was also part of the narrative about water.
To the extent that water has been mentioned much in the news, it generally served as another point of attack as Palestinian claims that Israel was “stealing” their water in the West Bank was often reported as fact rather than a political talking point. As even the Times notes in its feature, Israel continues to supply the Palestinians with more water than it is required to do under the Oslo Accords. Israel shares the mountain aquifer that runs through the West Bank with the Palestinians. But the Palestinians position is that they are entitled to all of it, not just their share. The underlying problem of that discussion has always been the assumption that all of the territory is “Palestinian land’ to which Israel has no legitimate claim. But even if you think Israel ought to cede much of that territory if the Palestinians are ever willing to make peace, the problem with this argument is that the Arabs still don’t recognize Israeli rights to any water except the sea into which they have been trying to push the Jews ever since they began returning to their ancient homeland.
It might make sense for Israelis and Arabs to cooperate about water. But if water remains an issue that exacerbates the conflict rather than solving it, it’s not because the Israelis aren’t willing to share their expertise or even some of the water they are desalinizing or treating for further use. It’s because water, like economic development, has always been beside the point to Palestinians and other Arabs and Muslims.
Most of the early leaders of the modern Zionist movement believed that conflict with the Arabs would be solved or rendered marginal by the realization that the Jewish revival would be an economic godsend to their Arab neighbors. Every major advance in the history of the country’s development in the past century such as the creation of its power grid, the growth of industry or agricultural advances were at least initially hailed as harbingers of cooperation if not peace. But the conflict worsened. That was not because these things did not hold the potential to bridge the divide between the two peoples but because the Arabs were less interested in development than they were in ensuring that there should never be a Jewish state in any part of the country. Indeed, sabotaging economic advances was viewed as a laudable Arab goal even if that meant that the plight of their people would suffer as a result.
For all that has changed in the last century, the decisions that have been made by both the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and their Hamas rivals that rule Gaza as an independent Palestinian state in all but name illustrate that this basic equation remains the same. So long as the former remains incapable of recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn and the latter is implacably committed to a terrorist war whose aim is Israel’s eradication, no technological or scientific innovation by Israel will ease relations between the two peoples.
Israel’s friends should be celebrating its water solutions and it is to the credit of theTimes, whose generally biased coverage aims usually to back up the false narrative of it as an oppressor, that it would highlight this story. But let no one think this miracle produced by Jewish brains, skill and determination will play much of a role in ending the conflict. Israel’s enemies don’t care that it is a role model for the world (including the United States) on water any more than any of its other laudable achievements have caused them to drop their prejudicial belief that only the Jews should not have the right to sovereignty in part of their homeland. Until the Palestinians are willing to concede that a Jewish state is legitimate and must be accepted, they will continue to fight it even if it means they must be poor, hungry or thirsty.