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Palestinians' New Agriculture Park Might Spell Catastrophe for Peace and the Environment

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Israel and its surrounding region suffers greatly from water shortages. Water is a national concern, and if there is one thing that concerns everyone beyond security issues, it's the amount of water in the Sea of Galilee, known by locals as the Kinneret. The national news reports regularly on its lowering water levels, and all Israelis talk about it, whether they are religious, nationalistic or not.

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After a swim in the Kinneret

Dual flush toilets are a law in Israel. The smaller button gets pressed for #1, the bigger one for #2. And Israel is number one in the world for reusing its grey water, which gets channeled to irrigate agriculture. As Israelis are ramping up their organic agricultural exports and developing heartier strains of plants and vegetables to withstand drought, their nearby neighbors in the Palestinian Authority, are also seeing agriculture as a means to grow the local economy.

Leaders from Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority were concluding talks in Tokyo earlier this month with the announcement that they plan to start building an agro-industrial park in the Palestinian Territories by next year, reports Rachel, a rep from Friends of the Earth Middle East on Green Prophet.

The agro-industrial park, she says, could provide jobs for up to 6,000 Palestinians in the West Bank. According to Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura and a story in AFP, the park's "success would provide local people with new jobs, promote the economic development of Palestine and hope for the future."

Rachel says that she applauds the efforts of all four sides to work cooperatively towards achieving a viable Palestinian state with a successful economy, but wonders if environmental objectives have also been considered.

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A market in Nablus

According to the plans, Palestinians working in the new agro-industrial park will grow fruits and vegetables, and export them through Jordan. Although there are few specific details besides what is just coming through the newswires, there are a few scary thoughts that pop into Rachel's mind:

First of all, this region is in the worst water crisis it has seen in decades. A large-scale, industrial agricultural project, she reasons, will require enormous imports of water. Where will it come from? On the other side of the Green Line, Israeli Minister of National Infrastructure Binyamin Eliezer is already talking about cutting down water quotas for Israeli farmers because the crisis is so severe, so it seems illogical that Palestinians are planning to massively increase their water consumption - via agriculture - as a basis for economic growth.

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If the agro-industrial park is based on conventional agriculture (which it most likely will be), then it also poses a risk to soil and groundwater. Conventional agriculture can quickly and easily strip soil of its nutrients, which causes a need for fertilizer inputs (on top of the inevitable pesticide inputs). These chemicals can leach into the groundwater, of which Palestinians already have preciously little, posing a threat to human health.

Additionally, the process of conventional agriculture is very fossil fuel intensive, in terms of machinery, chemicals, packaging and shipping, etc. In an era of climate change and skyrocketing oil prices it seems both environmentally irresponsible and economically unwise to tie an infant economy to petroleum.

The Japanese are planning to begin a feasibility study in November, but Rachel urges leaders to consider that sustainable peace requires sustainable environmental and economic solutions as well.

There is a whole pile of Middle East water stories on TreeHugger. Start with:
Israel's WATEC: Call Out For Water Technology
Israel and Australia Says G'Day and Shalom To A New Water Pact
Could Drought Kill Israel's Electric Car?
Will Oil and Water Ever Mix?
Water Tables Falling

::AFP


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