With water projects in West Bank and Gaza, U.S. cultivates hope

Date palms are flourishing in Jericho, thanks to a U.S. and Japanese project to clean wastewater and promote jobs in the West Bank and Gaza.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) on October 15 announced a $10 million investment to increase Palestinian access to agricultural water by expanding the Jericho wastewater collection system to an additional 10,000 residents. Japan built the wastewater treatment plant in Jericho in 2014.

New U.S-built water lines will connect 70 percent of Jericho residents to a state-of-the-art treatment plant, where wastewater will be treated and recycled for agricultural irrigation.

Up until now, every drop of water produced by this facility has been reused by local farms, according to Jerusalem Consul General Donald Blome, who said he has met farmers whose lives have been transformed because of the clean water they get from the Jericho plant. The thriving rows of date palms have created jobs and brought revenue to Palestinian families, he said while in Jericho to launch the expansion.

Water flowing into the sea from a pipe (© Wissam Nassar for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
South of Gaza City, wastewater flows into the sea. (@ Wissam Nassar for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Every year, millions of liters of untreated wastewater flow into Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, which endangers the environment and people’s health. “Contaminated water is the single largest cause of illness and disease among infants in Gaza,” said Jason Greenblatt, the president’s special representative for international negotiations. Greenblatt spoke after a U.N.-hosted meeting with Israeli and Palestinian Authority officials in September. “Think about that for a moment. Parents in Gaza cannot even give their children a drink of water without exposing them to significant risks.”

That’s why “the United States looks forward to working with international leaders in wastewater treatment to ensure that this initiative is a success,” Greenblatt said. “Together, we can make this a model of cooperation between Israelis, Palestinians and the donor community and apply it to other areas for the benefit of all,” he said.

Additional positive steps

Israel and the Palestinian Authority also took an important step in July toward completing a historic desalination project that will provide freshwater to the region and restore the water levels of the Dead Sea. Israel is a world leader in water technology and exports its irrigation techniques around the world.

Boy drinking from a water fountain (Mohammed Abed/AFP via Getty Images)
A boy drinks water in a street in Gaza City. (Mohammed Abed/AFP via Getty Images)

In addition, Israel and the Palestinian Authority in July agreed on an electricity deal, through which Israel transferred responsibility for a new electrical substation outside the West Bank city of Jenin to the Palestinian Authority.

Greenblatt acknowledges that transformational change will not be easy, and that both sides will have to make sacrifices to get it done. “But these are the kind of steps that, if implemented, could create an environment which will allow successful peace negotiations to go forward.”

“Achieving peace between the Israelis and Palestinians remains one of the president’s highest priorities,” he said.