The Struggle for Israel's Soul

August 20, 2001

Comment: #425

Attached References:

[1] Graham E. Fuller, "Build a Berlin Wall in the Middle East: A total separation is needed," Los Angeles Times, August 14, 2001. Excerpts.

[2] Fareed Zakaria, "The Real Danger for Israel," Washington Post, August 10, 2001; Page A25. Excerpts.

[3] Charles Krauthammer, "Mideast Violence: The Only Way Out By," Washington Post, August 16, 2001, Pg. 25. Excerpts.

[4] George F. Will, "A War And Then A Wall," Washington Post, August 17, 2001; Page A23. Excerpts.

[5] Richard Murphy, "The UN Security Council Should Require A Palestinian State," International Herald Tribune, August 15, 2001. Excerpts.

References 1-5 reflect what seems to be a growing consensus among U.S. opinion makers: The only solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is to physically separate them.

To be sure, there are variations on this theme. Some, like George Will [Ref 4] and Charles Krauthammer [Ref 3], believe the separation should be preceded by an all out Israeli blitz aimed at permanently weakening the Palestinians; others take a more pacific view. But all five references have at least one thing in common, like the Mitchell report (which is still the most balanced view of this conflict, in my opinion), NONE of these proposals says anything about WATER. But the question of separation cannot be separated from the question of how water will be shared between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

For what it is worth, here is one lowly government worker's opinion of why this so. Comments in bracket's have been added to clarify points.]

The struggle for Israel's soul

By Franklin C. Spinney,
The Hindu (India's National Newspaper),
August 20, 2001

THE STRUGGLE for Palestinian independence has exploded into a vicious ethnic war, replete with racial stereotyping and the killing of women and children on both sides. Regardless of how it ends, a legacy of bitterness, mistrust, and alienation will linger for years. A growing number of opinion makers believe the only way to quell the violence is to separate Palestinians from Israelis. But no one seems willing to discuss openly the question of Palestinian water rights, an issue that must be resolved before a just separation can possibly happen. Its answer will bear heavily on how Israel chooses to define itself in the 21st Century.

The idea of separation is an old one in Israel, dating back at least to the theory of the Iron Wall published in 1923 by Ze'ev Jabotinski, a fervent nationalist and father of the Israeli right. But recent events have increased its popularity, and it is now moving overseas. On August 14, Mr. Graham Fuller resurrected it in the Los Angeles Times with an op-ed entitled ``Build a Berlin Wall in the Middle East''. [see Ref 1]

Mr. Fuller asserted that the rage and psychological scars on both sides made a normalisation of relations inconceivable. The only solution, he opined, was to give the Palestinians an independent state, then cut all its ties with Israel. Mr. Fareed Zakaria, writing in the Washington Post (``The Real Danger for Israel'', August 10), argued for separation and Palestinian statehood, because Israel's neocolonial occupation of Palestinian land requires onerous policies that will eventually destroy Israel's identity as a liberal western democracy. [Ref 2]

Mr. Fuller and Mr. Zakaria, like most observers in America, said nothing about the relationship of water to the independent Palestinian state. But access to water will define the nature of that state, and in so doing, the nature of Israel as well.

Over half of Israel's water comes from territories conquered in the 1967 War. For years, Israel has been consuming more water than nature is replacing - and now it is in the third year of the worst drought in over 100 years. The Sea of Galilee is at the lowest level in recorded history. The water level in the mountain aquifer is near or below its red line - the level below which nature cannot replenish itself. Salt water is seeping into the coastal aquifer after years of over-pumping, causing irreversible damage. Israel has been driven out of Lebanon, the only state in the region with a water surplus.

Israelis consume well over three times as much water per capita as the Palestinians. The ratio between settlers and Palestinians is even more unequal, as much as five or six to one. In Gaza, per capita Palestinian consumption is at least 30 per cent below the minimum standard of 100 litres a day set by the World Health Organisation.

How would a separate Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza affect the water budget of Israel? It would sit on top of 90 per cent of the replenishment area feeding the mountain aquifer - the underground reservoir that flows from the highlands in the West Bank to the lowlands in Israel. According to Israel's Prime Minister, Mr. Ariel Sharon, this aquifer supplies one-third of Israel's water. Today, Israel consumes over 80 per cent of its annual flows. Under international law, establishing an independent Palestinian state on top of the mountain aquifer would make that aquifer an international waterway. The Palestinian state would be an upstream riparian, giving it a claim on this water. To be sure, Israel would have downstream water rights - but those rights would be like Mexico's water rights to the Colorado River. The unequal distribution of this water would give the Palestinian state a powerful moral as well as legal claim to a far larger share of this water.

[Note: A Map of the Mountain Aquifer can be found at here and here.

A viable Palestinian state could never be surrounded by Israel. Like the isolated Bantustans inside South Africa, such a state would never truly be separate, because it would always be vulnerable to blockade, intrusion, and domination by Israel. The only possible alternative boundary would be one with Jordan along the Lower Jordan River. But if the eastern border of the Palestinian state rested on the banks of the Lower Jordan, that Palestinian state would have a downstream claim on the sources of the water flowing into the Lower Jordan - primarily the drainage basin of the Upper Jordan River that feeds the Sea of Galilee, which can be thought of as a giant holding tank with a drain into the Lower Jordan River. Israel is now pumping so much water out of this drainage basin that the Sea of Galilee is below its red line and its effluent into the lower Jordan is a non-usable saline trickle. An independent Palestinian state, as a downstream riparian, could lay a claim on Israel for some form of compensation for Israel's pre-emption of these upstream water resources.

[A map of the Upper Jordan Basin can be found at here]

The upshot: establishing a viable Palestinian state on the West Bank could internationalise as much as two-thirds of Israel's water budget. Such a development would place Israel on the horns of a dilemma: if Israel insisted on its downstream rights to the mountain aquifer, it would validate the same Palestinian claim on water flowing out of the Upper Jordan basin. But if Israel denied the Palestinian downstream riparian claim on the Upper Jordan basin, it would invite a reciprocal pre-emption by the Palestinians with regard to water flowing out of the mountain aquifer.

More than any other country in West Asia, Israel embodies the central ideal of liberal western democracies: namely that government exists for and is grounded on the inalienable rights of the individual - the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In a desert, those rights must include an equitable access to life-sustaining water. Since the total water supply is limited, and because Israel consumes more water than nature replaces, there is only one way to achieve this democratic ideal: Israelis must reduce their consumption to enable increased consumption by Palestinians. But a reduction in Israel's total water consumption raises a second dilemma - and this one reaches deeply into Israel's soul.

In economic terms, there is only one production sector in the Israeli economy that could absorb a meaningful reduction in its water consumption: agriculture. Israel has an advanced high-tech economy, and its agriculture sector is an extremely efficient user of water by western standards. Nevertheless, agriculture contributes only two per cent to Israel's Gross Domestic Product, while it soaks up between 50 per cent and 70 per cent of Israel's water budget. Yet the Zionist ideal rests on agriculture - the heroic struggle of the kibbutz together with the idea of making the desert bloom.

The intifada has impaled Israel on the horns of a dilemma that threatens its very soul: to preserve its sense of a democratic morality based on the rule of law and the idea that every individual has value, Israel must sacrifice the Zionist heritage lying at the core of its heroic national self-image, but to preserve its Zionist ideal Israel must sacrifice the sense of democratic morality lying at the core of post-holocaust Jewish humanism. Left un-addressed, this dilemma will grow steadily worse as the continuing depletion of water resources clashes with the growing needs of a rapidly increasing Palestinian population.

Separation cannot be based on the idea of locking the Palestinians inside parched ghettos on the West Bank or expelling them into Jordan. Israel's new Iron Wall will always leak water, and that leakage requires the kind of farsighted cooperation and sacrifice that will make it a stronger democracy and a beacon of hope to the rest of the world.

(The writer works in the U.S. Department of Defense. The opinions expressed above are his own and do not represent an official position of the United States Government.)

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Reference #1

Build a Berlin Wall in the Middle East: A total separation is needed.

Los Angeles Times,
August 14, 2001

[Graham E. Fuller is former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA]


As long as the occupation of the West Bank continues, Palestinians will employ armed resistance and terror. Israel will not talk to the Palestinians until the violence ends--and we know it will not.


It is folly to believe that Yasser Arafat will be capable of preventing it; the logic of the situation makes it impossible for him or any other Palestinian leader to do so. The Israeli radical right would even like to eliminate him and the Palestinian Authority--as if that would accomplish anything except a requirement for deeper and indefinite Israeli administration and occupation in the face of urban guerrilla warfare.


One day, such a wall can come down again--likely many years off--when the logic of total separation has brought the necessary fruits of calm and dispassion that could facilitate the slow reopenings of more normal relations. A wall and miles of fences is a terrible thing. But does anybody believe the intifada can end as long as Israel requires occupation of the territories for its own security and Palestinians are willing to die in large numbers until it ends?

Reference #2

The Real Danger for Israel [op-ed]
By Fareed Zakaria.
Washington Post,
August 10, 2001; Page A25.


For a decade the Labor Party had a solution to Israel's biggest problem: land for peace.


But once you get past the rhetoric, it becomes clear that the Israeli right has no solutions either. The right in Israel held three core positions:

  • First, that there could never be a Palestinian state (Jordan was the true Palestinian state).

  • Second, that Arafat and the PLO were not legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people and could never be negotiating partners.

  • And, finally, that the Jewish settlements in Gaza and on the West Bank would expand indefinitely.


Sharon has a solution -- counterterrorism -- to address the crisis of the moment. But this is a tactic, not a strategy.


Unilateral separation would mean walls. Israel would finally define its borders. The Palestinian Authority would get most of the West Bank and Gaza and could declare an independent state. Israel would have relations with it, but in the guarded way it does with its other Arab neighbors.


Separation would help cut the cord between Israeli Arabs and the Palestinian cause. One of their chief reasons for radicalization would end: Israel would no longer be occupying Arabs against their will. The other -- their miserable treatment -- is also something that the Israeli government should end.


The writer is editor of Newsweek International and a columnist for Newsweek.

Reference #3

Mideast Violence: The Only Way Out By

Charles Krauthammer,
Washington Post,
August 16, 2001, Pg. 25.


The diplomats prattle about how there is no military solution to this conflict. Tell that to Yasser Arafat. He began this war a year ago after rejecting Israel's offer of a Palestinian state with its capital in a shared Jerusalem.


Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is flailing about for a strategy.


Arafat's ensuing cease-fire was as worthless as the 68 cease-fires he signed while terrorizing Lebanon a quarter-century ago.


Israel does not reoccupy Palestinian cities. Israeli troops stay only the few days necessary to (1) begin building a wall of separation between Palestinian and Israeli territory and (2) evacuate the more far-flung Israeli settlements.


In the current bloodshed, not a single suicide bomber has come from Gaza. Why? Because there already is a wall separating Gaza from Israel.


For America, stopping Israel would be foolishness in the extreme. We have one overriding objective in the area: nonviolence. Washington has no idea how to get there. Israel does.

We must allow Israel to defeat terrorism. If we do not, we are sentencing the region to endless war -- and ourselves to endless crises.

Reference #4

A War And Then A Wall

By George F. Will,
Washington Post,
August 17, 2001; Page A23


As with the June bombing that killed 21 at a Tel Aviv disco, children were not collateral victims -- they were the targets. Abdallah al-Shami, a senior official of Islamic Jihad, celebrated "this successful operation" against "pigs and monkeys."


But Israel is skilled at combating such warfare. And now Israel should show that it, not Arafat, will dictate the intensity of the conflict.

A short war -- a few days; over before European and American diplomats' appeasement reflexes kick in -- should have four objectives.

  • First, to kill or capture those terrorists (and those who direct them) whom Arafat has permitted to remain at large, in violation of his Oslo undertaking and of his promise to CIA Director George Tenet after the disco bombing.

  • Second, to destroy the Palestinian Authority's military infrastructure built up in violation of detailed Oslo restrictions.

  • Third, to destroy other physical infrastructure useful to the Palestinian Authority, including all newspaper and broadcasting facilities.

  • Fourth, and most important, to define, with finality, Israel's borders, around which a wall should be

Reference #5

The UN Security Council Should Require A Palestinian State

By Richard Murphy
International Herald Tribune, August 15, 2001



The United States could propose a draft resolution that would add the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the council's 1967 call in Resolution 242 for the return of "land for peace."

  • The council anticipates a viable Palestinian state, sovereign over the land in the West Bank and Gaza from which Israel would withdraw.

  • The final borders of the state of Palestine should closely reflect the armistice lines of 1949.

  • Negotiations should resume immediately to determine how much land Israel must retain to assure its security


There is no reason to doubt that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, proud of his reputation as a man who says what he means and means what he says, intends to hold Yasser Arafat responsible for any violence committed by any Palestinian and for any words of incitement.


The point of this proposed resolution is to restart the negotiating process. Its adoption would confirm the foresight of those American negotiators in 1967 who believed that peace and security for all parties would require a return of occupied lands, with "minor border rectifications." In the present maelstrom of "targeted killings," suicide bombings and the rhetoric of hatred, that foresight no longer seems so unrealistic.

The writer, senior fellow for the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations, was assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs from 1983 to 1989. He contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.