THE announcement in July of a water prices agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been hailed as a model of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation as well as a major achievement of the Trump administration’s efforts to broker a comprehensive peace deal in the Middle East. Both the agreement and the process that yielded it, however, reveal a very different reality.

The water prices agreement is part of a larger Red Sea-Dead Sea conveyance project by Israel, Jordan and the PA to build a conduit to move Red Sea water over mountains and down into the Dead Sea basin, with three outputs: the generation of increased hydroelectric power, more desalinated water for the parties, and an increase in water for the Dead Sea.

For more than a decade, this conduit project has been the subject of tense and difficult negotiations among the three parties. From a Palestinian perspective, this negotiation process has been one of continuous fighting to be treated equally and fairly with the other two states, despite the fact that the Israeli army maintains overall control of occupied Palestine. Even when the parties were agreed in principle on a project, Israel used its power to force Palestinians to accept less than what is fair.

For example, the three parties agreed in December 2013 to a Memorandum of Understanding on Regional Water Sharing, involving a desalination plant to be built at Aqaba, Jordan, coupled with a water swap between Israel and Jordan, and a sale of water by Israel to the Palestinians. For three years, Israel insisted on a price for the water that the PA considered unreasonably high and unfair. After the recent intervention by the US envoy, the PA found the price “acceptable” even though it was higher than prices it pays for other water from Israel. The PA’s acceptance is understandable only in the context of the intense pressure Palestinians face from ongoing water shortages and an inadequate infrastructure throughout its territories, a direct consequence of Israeli control.

Israel has been able to use its occupying power to extract well over its fair share of water from the main aquifer that lies below the West Bank. Using mechanisms imposed by its army and established by the Oslo agreements, Israel severely limits Palestinian access to that aquifer, and to the surface water of the Jordan River.

The continuing Israeli intransigence created serious water shortages and severe pressure on the PA to give in to Israeli demands, and by early 2017 the PA had returned to a JWC process only slightly modified in ways that allow some limited water projects – apart from drilling and rehabilitation of wells – to be implemented without prior JWC approval. Israel’s occupation authorities and import restrictions still control the extent and pace of Palestinian water development.

Israel should not build and use its power by depriving the Palestinians it has occupied for the past 50 years of access to their fair share of their natural resources.

While the diplomatic process remains largely frozen between Israel and the Palestinians, by moving forward together to solve our water problems we can chart a course forward that will safeguard the vital resource of water for the future of both peoples.

-Opinion piece by Shaddad Attili, from aljazeera.com