x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Israel slams Dutch company for cutting water ties over settlements

Vitens, the largest drinking water supplier in the Netherlands, says it is ending its joint projects with the Mekorot water company.

JERUSALEM // A Dutch water company’s decision to cut ties with Israel’s national water carrier over its operations in the West Bank sparked anger in Israel yesterday, in the latest instance of growing international impatience with Israel’s settlement expansion.

Vitens, the largest drinking water supplier in the Netherlands, said it was ending its joint projects with the Mekorot water company since “these cannot be seen outside their political context”.

The European Union, along with most of the international community, considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem illegal and an obstacle to the establishment of a Palestinian state in territories Israel conquered in the 1967 war. With nearly 600,000 Israelis now living on lands captured in 1967, the Palestinians say the continued settlement construction is a sign of bad faith and making it ever more difficult to partition the land.

Israeli settlements have come under heavy international criticism since peace talks with the Palestinians resumed in July. A series of Israeli announcements to build more settlement homes have drawn international condemnations and Palestinian threats to walk out of the talks, and prompted US secretary of state, John Kerry, to question Israel’s commitment to peace.

Last month, Israel acceded to a European funding ban on projects in the occupied territories by assuring the EU it would not spend money received under a technology-sharing pact in the West Bank or East Jerusalem. Earlier this week, Britain’s overseas trade body issued a warning to firms investing in Israeli settlements, saying ties to the Israeli communities established in the West Bank could be bad for business.

Israel has rejected the criticism of its settlements, saying their fate should be resolved through negotiations.

Israeli foreign ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor said that the Vitens decision was “devoid of any common sense”, particularly since the Israeli company has cooperated closely with Jordan and the Palestinians on water projects under the auspices of the World Bank.

“They have probably caved into political pressure by anti-Israel groups, and in their eagerness to pander to those groups they have scored high points in the theater of the absurd,” he said.

But Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief peace negotiator, said the Dutch decision reflected just how isolated Israel has become over the settlement issue.

Speaking at Tel Aviv University, she said “it hurts my heart” to see the Dutch end cooperation with Mekorot, which does work in the West Bank on behalf of Israelis and Palestinians.

* Associated Press