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21st Sep 2020

EU parliament chief highlights Palestine water shortage

  • Schulz (c) visiting a demolished Palestinian house in East Jerusalem this week (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Right-wing Israeli MPs have savaged European Parliament President Martin Schulz over his remarks on water politics.

The German centre-left politician said in a speech in the Knesset on Wednesday (12 February) that: "A young Palestinian asked me why Israelis can use 70 litres of water and Palestinians only 17. I didn't check the data. I'm asking you if it's right."

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He also criticised Israel’s restrictions on Gaza, adding: “The results of the blockade are exploited by extremists, so perhaps it is counterproductive to security.”

MPs from the hard-right Bayit Yehudi party, which is part of Israel’s ruling coalition, reacted by walking out of the plenary chamber and by jeering “shame!”

The party chief and Israel’s economy minister, Naftali Bennett, later told the Israeli daily, the Jerusalem Post: "I won't sit in the Knesset and hear a European, certainly not a German, saying such things."

The culture minister, Limor Livnat, from the right-wing Likud party, added: “That [Schulz’s water data] is a blatant lie. This speech will be spread all around the world as though this is true. When he says these things, and in German, it's no wonder that Knesset members and ministers are objecting to these comments."

Schulz, whose spokesman could not be reached on Wednesday, did not say if his numbers refer to Palestinians living in a specific area or to overall data.

He also did not say if they refer to total consumption or consumption for domestic needs only.

For its part, the Israeli Water Authority noted that, according to figures for 2006, Palestinians get 100,000 litres of water per head per year and Israelis get 170,000.

Its spokesman, Uri Schor, said Schulz is “wrong.”

He also failed to detail what his figures refer to. But according to Ewash, an Israel-based advocacy group which includes four UN agencies - Ocha, Unicef, UNWRA, and UNDP - among its 28 members, the EU parliament chief did highlight a genuine problem.

Ewash says the average domestic water consumption by Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank is 70 litres per capita per day (lcd), compared to the World Health Organisation recommended minimum of 100 lcd and the Israeli average of 300 lcd.

An Ewash contact, who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorised to speak on the record, noted that in some parts of the West Bank the Palestinian figure is just 20 lcd, while Jewish settlements next door use 400 lcd.

“This is a real sanitation and hygiene issue. It means that instead of taking a shower every day, you take one once a week. Instead of washing your dishes every day, you wash them every second day, and we are talking about life in a desert environment,” the contact said.

Ewash added in an official statement: "We consider that any attention international leaders can draw to the discriminatory and unequal situation is useful.”

The Schulz furore comes at a sensitive moment in EU-Israeli relations.

Most EU envoys have refrained from criticising Israel in recent months in order not to upset Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. But at the same time, new EU rules blocking grants for Israeli projects in the occupied territories have added to outside pressure.

The EU ban has prompted Denmark’s Danske Bank, Dutch water firm Vitens, Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global, and Sweden’s Nordea Bank to cut ties with some Israeli companies.

But an Israeli diplomat played down the impact that Schulz’ remarks might have on the boycott.

“It [the boycott] is a marginal thing. One of the companies has been linked to investments in North Korea and Iran, so you can see who we are dealing with,” he told EUobserver, referring to allegations against Danske Bank.

Schulz’ visit to Jerusalem is part of a week-long tour of Israel, Jordan, and Palestine.

The outgoing EU parliament head, who is a prominent candidate to be the next European Commission President, also told the Knesset on Wednesday: “There is no [European] boycott [of Israel] and no boycott is under consideration.”

He added: “Israeli society is built on the values of freedom and democracy, which tie it to Europe. Israel is a strong democracy with a modern economy. You made the desert bloom."

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