By Sharon Udasin May 4, 2017

Trilateral co-directors of EcoPeace Middle East send letter to Norway urging for participation of third-party mediator on water and electricity issues.

A regional environmental group is calling for the participation of a third-party mediator on water and electricity issues in Gaza in hopes of averting a humanitarian, ecological and security crisis there.

The Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian co-directors of the organization EcoPeace Middle East emphasized the urgency of the situation in a letter sent last week to Norway’s envoy for the Middle East peace process, ahead of the biannual Ad Hoc Liaison Committee meeting for Palestinian development assistance this week in Brussels.

Despite a number of practical advancements that have taken place in Gaza in recent months, EcoPeace said, immediate action is necessary to prevent a “further deterioration of conditions on the ground.

“We are concerned that current conditions will lead to severe humanitarian implications for the two million people living in Gaza,” EcoPeace wrote in its letter to committee chairman Tor Wennesland. “The outbreak of pandemic disease is a prime concern, with national security implications for the Palestinian Authority, Israel, Egypt and the broader international community.”

Overseen by Norway, the 15-member AHLC coordinates development assistance for the Palestinians and is co-sponsored by the EU and US. Informal talks took place Wednesday; the formal portion of the meeting takes place today.

The meeting comes a week after the PA informed Israel it would stop paying for Israeli electricity supplied to Gaza, and three weeks after Gaza’s power plant was shut down due to an inability to pay the PA for fuel.

Despite these recent events, EcoPeace praised Israeli and Palestinian parties for some advancements in the water and electricity sectors, such as the reactivation of the Joint Water Committee and other technical forums. The reestablishment of such committees, EcoPeace said, has led to negotiations on the construction of a new power line to Gaza and on the sale of an additional 33 million cubic meters of water from Israel to the PA – including a 10-m.c.m. allocation to Gaza.

Nonetheless, EcoPeace expressed concern about a lack of urgency in the progress.

“Only once the details of the agreements on additional water supply and electricity sold conclude can the needed investments move forward in the building of new transmission lines, water piping and reservoirs,” EcoPeace wrote. “Time is certainly not on our side.”

Though the Israeli government and Palestinian ministries have agreed on many relevant policy issues, a variety of stumbling blocks from the technical side have impeded their plans from moving forward, the Israeli director for EcoPeace Middle East, Gidon Bromberg, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

“No one wants to see a humanitarian, ecological and national security threat from Gaza to the broader region,” Bromberg said. “That’s why we think there’s an urgent need for a third party to come on board and help move the technical details forward.”

Bromberg did not specify which international body might be suitable, but stressed the urgency for intervention.

Advancements on the technical front may be held up by both bureaucratic issues and the perception that progress only needs to be made “when the house is burning,” he added.

Electricity and water crises are already unfolding in Gaza today, but Israelis and Palestinians may only recognize that the house is burning when an outbreak of disease occurs, or when Gazans are running into Israel or Egypt begging for water, Bromberg said.

“At the moment, things can be contained, things can be managed,” he said. “Once pandemic disease breaks out, and that’s a real threat, then the genie is out of the bottle. The costs involved are going to be so much higher than if they are going to pay x per cubic meter of water or y per cubic meter of water.