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Tuesday, 23 June 2015
Page: 4332


Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (23:35): Last year was the United Nations International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. It put the spotlight on the lives of the Palestinian people, creating international awareness of the challenges they have faced since the partition of Palestine and the occupation. Nearly 68 years on, the ongoing impacts of the occupation have been devastating and demoralising for all. One of the most fundamental requirements for life has been too often damaged in the ongoing conflict—water. Australians know all too well water is not limitless, so policies that govern its distribution and use need to be fair and equitable. In considering allocations of water, the water needs of all need to be considered, including balancing water needs of agriculture, business and households. It is through this lens of water that I wish to talk about Palestine and Israel, where the allocation and distribution of water has been of major international concern.

Like Australia, the lands containing both Israel and Palestine have areas which have high and low rainfall and seasonal rains and, therefore, rely on both surface water and underground aquifers. Whilst there is not unlimited water, there is not an overall water scarcity problem. However, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights have repeatedly expressed concerns that Palestinians living under Israeli occupation:

… do not have access to sufficient and safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.

In Gaza the situation is horrendous, with 90 per cent of the water determined as unfit for human consumption, and raw sewage being pumped into the sea.

In 2009, two major reports documented in detail the challenges in accessing adequate and safe water and sanitation for Palestinians living under the occupation. One report was by the World Bank and the second by Amnesty International. These reports both acknowledged improvements to be made with both the Palestinian Authority and international donors, but focused the majority of the attention on Israel as the occupying power. Four out of six of Amnesty's recommendations are directed towards the Israeli authorities. The most significant factor leading to this situation is the grave disparity in water access between Palestinians and Israelis, with Israelis having access to four times as much water as Palestinians. The Amnesty report states:

Israel controls and restricts Palestinian access to water in the OPT to a level which neither meets their needs nor constitutes a fair distribution of shared water resources Israel uses 80 per cent or more of the water from the Mountain Aquifer, the Palestinians' sole remaining water resource, which is replenished almost entirely by the rainfall over the West Bank. Israel has entirely appropriated the Palestinians' share of the Jordan River. It also has additional water resources which are not shared with the Palestinians.

The Oslo peace accords included an interim agreement on water, allocating a set amount per year of water that could be extracted by both parties from the three underground aquifers. Palestinians were granted one-quarter of the water allocation assigned to Israel. Palestinians remain constrained by these restrictions; however, Israelis do not. The World Bank estimates that Israel overpumps 390 million cubic metres of water from shared aquifers, amounting to about 80 per cent above Israel's Oslo allocation of 483 million cubic metres a year. Israel has raised concerns about Palestinians drilling their own wells or accessing piped water without Israeli permission and damaging the water infrastructure.

During the conflict in Gaza last year, some 60 per cent of water storage tanks were destroyed or damaged, 38 per cent of water pumping stations were destroyed and half of the water distribution centres were either destroyed or damaged. The destruction of water treatment plants in this and earlier conflicts, combined with the Israeli blockade, has led to UN estimates that 50 to 80 million litres of untreated and partially treated sewage is discharged daily into the Mediterranean Sea. This has resulted in the pollution of seawater and marine life and has exposed residents to direct health hazards of waterborne diseases.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights explicitly raises concerns about:

… the continuing destruction of the water infrastructure in Gaza and in the West Bank …

It urges Israel to:

… take urgent steps to facilitate the restoration of the water infrastructure of the West Bank …

The situation of water in Israel and Palestine is a microcosm of the wider conflict. The Israeli and Palestinian people face a shared future on shared land. There needs to be a sense of shared humanity, understanding and peace. In his message for the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on both parties to:

… to step back from the brink. The mindless cycle of destruction must end. The virtuous circle of peace must begin.

Violence and conflict is no solution and has led to the disparity in water resources, which is harming the most vulnerable in the community. Philip Gordon, the White House Coordinator for the Middle East, commented that Israel:

… cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely. Doing so is not only wrong but a recipe for resentment and recurring instability.

Australia has an ongoing role to play to multilaterally bring an end to this conflict through a negotiated and just solution for both parties based on UN resolutions and international law. This is not about a contest between pro-Israelis and pro-Palestinians, but about seeking a lasting resolution based on peace and international law. As a modern democratic nation, we should be joining the 132 other nations who have conferred diplomatic recognition to the Palestinian National Authority. Australia should be pledging to support the rights of the Palestinian people. As my colleague in the other place, the member for Fremantle, has eloquently said:

It is now time for the Australian government to show genuine support for the two-state solution and recognise the state of Palestine.

A lasting and genuine path to peace must be embarked upon to end this conflict. I very much look forward to when that day will come.