Commentary Magazine


Of Untreated Sewage and Peace Talks

Though Secretary of State John Kerry’s next trip to the Mideast may be delayed by his wife’s illness, he fully intends to continue his shuttle diplomacy between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. There are many reasons why this effort is misguided, including the one Jonathan noted yesterday–the PA’s nonstop indoctrination of its people in vicious anti-Semitic hatred. But here’s another: the untreated West Bank sewage contaminating groundwater and streams on both sides of the Green Line.

What, you may ask, does untreated sewage have to do with Israeli-Palestinian peace talks? The following Haaretz report provides an answer:

Attempts at Israeli-Palestinian cooperation on this issue have largely gone nowhere, mainly because the Palestinian Authority refuses to cooperate with the settlements. Thus it refused to connect Palestinian towns in the northern West Bank to an Israeli sewage line because the line also serves several settlements. It also nixed a proposed treatment plant that would serve both Palestinian towns and the settlement of Ariel.

In other words, the PA would rather let its own waterways be polluted–including the mountain aquifer, a major source of drinking water for both Palestinians and Israelis–than do something as simple as connect to an Israeli sewage line or cooperate on a treatment plant. But how can peace be possible when the PA would rather risk its own citizens’ health than cooperate with its ostensible “peace partner” to solve the problem?

Nor is this a fluke: The PA opposes even the most innocuous forms of cooperation with Israel. In May, for instance, its ruling Fatah party denounced a soccer game for Israeli and Palestinian teens organized with EU support, while Fatah activists posted threatening messages on the Internet against both players and organizers. But how can peace be possible if the PA won’t even let its children play soccer with Israelis?

Or consider the PA’s recent campaign against Israeli journalists. As anyone familiar with Israel knows, Israeli journalists are far more likely than most Israelis to believe peace is achievable, blame their own government for its non-achievement and support Palestinian demands for more Israeli concessions. Yet now, as the Washington Post reported in May, Israeli journalists are being thrown out of PA press conferences and harassed by PA security personnel; Palestinian journalists who have ties with Israeli colleagues are being labeled “collaborators”; and “Organizations that once brought Palestinian and Israeli journalists together for professional conferences no longer sponsor such events, because Palestinian reporters say it will hurt their careers to participate.”

Needless to say, this would seem self-defeating, as it alienates some of the PA’s most influential Israeli supporters. But the more serious problem is this: If Palestinians will no longer talk with even the most pro-Palestinian Israelis, which Israelis will they talk to?

Under these circumstances, peace talks don’t stand a chance. So I’d like to propose that Kerry attempt a more modest achievement: persuade the PA to connect its cities to Israeli sewage lines. That might actually be doable. And unlike the pie-in-the-sky diplomacy he’s pursuing now, it would genuinely improve both Palestinian and Israeli lives.