THE water from the tiny underground spring that sustains this
Palestinian village laps against the the mosque wall as women and
children fill their jugs.
The spring is a happy place at what is both the lowest and most
central point of the village sitting between two rocky hills
planted with olive trees.
Children splash and play, and women exchange stories about their
But it is also a potent symbol of the scarcity of water in the
Mideast and, particularly, the land on the West Bank of the Jordan
River, soon to be handed back to Palestinians in the next phase of
the Israeli-Palestinian self-rule agreement.
Ein Arik is located four miles from Ramallah, the de facto
Palestinian capital of the West Bank.
The future control of the water supply, now in Israeli hands,
has become one of the most intractable problems delaying the
Israeli-Palestinian talks on the phased withdrawal of Israeli
soldiers and holding the first Palestinian elections.
It is also a potent symbol of future interdependence of Israel
and any future Palestinian state.
Israel demands continued control of the water supply, but is
prepared to discuss the issue during negotiations about a future
And Palestinian negotiators are demanding control of the water
supply. "You can't have a state without water," says Alayan Hindi,
a leader of a community of Palestinian refugees who live in this
village of about 1,100 people.
Presently, Israel uses more than four times the amount of water
than Palestinians from the mountain aquifer on the West Bank.
The 500 million cubic meters drawn from the aquifer by Israel
each year represents 25 percent to 30 percent of all the water used
by Israel's 5 million inhabitants.
About 50 million cubic meters is piped to the 130,000 Jewish
settlers on the West Bank. In contrast, about 1 million Palestinian
residents on the West Bank receive 130 million cubic meters.
Any compromise on the political positions of the two sides will
mean less overall usage by Israel and more by the Palestinians.
Gershon Baskin, codirector of Israel-Palestine Center for
Research and Information, a private think tank, has outlined a
compromise in a recent submission to the negotiators.
Under the proposed plan, Israel would partially recognize
Palestinian rights to the water and allocate an additional 50
million cubic meters a year to them from the eastern basin of the
aquifer, which provides politically moderate Jewish settlements in
the Jordan Valley area. …