US warns Israel on ‘unrestrained’ settlement building

Updated 01 April 2017

US warns Israel on ‘unrestrained’ settlement building

JERUSALEM: The United States warned Friday that “unrestrained” building of settler homes could hinder peace, after Israel approved a new settlement in the occupied West Bank for the first time in a quarter century.
The Palestinians reacted angrily at what is widely seen as the most right-wing government in Israeli history presses ahead with settlement expansion in defiance of international concern.
US President Donald Trump’s administration refrained from criticizing the new settlement, which was approved by the Israeli security cabinet late Thursday, but warned that further expansion could undermine peace efforts.
“While the existence of settlements is not in itself an impediment to peace, further unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance peace,” a White House official said.
“Going forward... the Israeli government has made clear that Israel’s intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes President Trump’s concerns into consideration.”
A spokesman for UN chief Antonio Guterres expressed “disappointment and alarm” at the Israeli announcement.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the new settlement building threatens “to further undermine prospects for a viable two-state solution, which remains the only realistic way to fulfil the aspirations of both sides and achieve just and lasting peace.”


Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said Israel “continues to destroy the prospects of peace.”
He also criticized the United Nations, European Union and United States for not doing enough to punish Israel for continuing to expand settlements in the West Bank.
“Peace is not going to be achieved by tolerating such crimes,” he said.
More than 400,000 Israelis live in existing settlements considered illegal under international law.
The new settlement will be constructed north of the former wildcat Jewish outpost known as Amona, which was razed in February in accordance with an Israeli High Court order.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had promised to build a new settlement for its residents after their eviction.
“I promised to create a new community and we are going to respect that commitment and create it today,” he said ahead of Thursday’s security cabinet meeting.
Oded Revivi, chief foreign envoy for the umbrella body representing settlers, welcomed the decision.
“We will be monitoring the government very closely to see that these plans come to fruition, enabling a new era of building,” he said in a statement.
Agriculture minister Uri Ariel also welcomed the announcement, saying it would allow the “development of Judaea and Samaria,” using a term right-wing Israelis apply to the West Bank.
It will be the first entirely new settlement that an Israeli government has approved since 1991, the anti-settlement NGO Peace Now said.
In recent years, construction had focused instead on expanding existing settlements.


Peace Now said the new settlement’s location deep in the West Bank was “strategic for the fragmentation of the West Bank,” which Palestinians see as the bulk of their future state.
“Netanyahu is held captive by the settlers, and chooses his political survival over the interest of the state of Israel,” the NGO said, adding it was pushing Israelis and Palestinians closer to “apartheid.”
The international community regards all Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories as illegal and a major obstacle to Middle East peace.
Israel draws a distinction between those it sanctions and those it does not — so-called outposts.
The cabinet also invited tenders for nearly 2,000 new homes in existing settlements and discussed retroactively legalizing three outposts, Peace Now said.
Ronen Bergman, senior correspondent for Israel’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper, said Netanyahu, who has faced corruption allegations, has been dragged further right to keep his government together.
The far-right pro-settlement Jewish Home party, part of Netanyahu’s coalition, is often dictating the government’s agenda, he added.
“He has been shifted more and more to the right since being re-elected.
“(Netanyahu) is not calling the agenda, he is chasing the agenda,” Bergman told AFP.
The former US administration of Barack Obama was deeply opposed to Israel’s expansion of the settlements and in December withheld its veto from a UN Security Council resolution condemning the policy.
But since Trump took office in January, settler leaders have been emboldened by his far less critical stance and Israel has since announced more than 5,500 new homes in existing settlements.
Netanyahu has been in discussions with the Trump administration on how to move ahead with further construction.
Trump has pledged unstinting support for Israel but has also urged Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements for a little bit” while his administration looks for ways to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks.


Water-scarce Gulf states bank on desalination, at a cost

Updated 12 December 2019

Water-scarce Gulf states bank on desalination, at a cost

  • For Oman and other Gulf states dominated by vast deserts, obtaining fresh water from the sea comes at a high cost
  • In Sur, water for residents and businesses comes from a large desalination plant

SUR, OMAN: “We have water, and it’s the most important thing in a house,” says Abdullah Al-Harthi from the port city of Sur in Oman, a country that relies on desalination plants.
But for Oman and the other Gulf countries dominated by vast and scorching deserts, obtaining fresh water from the sea comes at a high financial and environmental cost.
In Sur, south of the capital Muscat, water for residents and businesses comes from a large desalination plant that serves some 600,000 people.
“Before, life was very difficult. We had wells, and water was delivered by trucks,” the 58-year-old told AFP. “Since the 1990s, water has come through pipes and we’ve had no cuts.”
But these benefits — relying on energy intensive processes that produce carbon emissions — do not come without a cost, particularly as global temperatures rise.
The United Nations says 2019 is on course to be one of the hottest three years on record.
And there is another impact: the desalination plants produce highly concentrated salt water, or brine, that is often dumped back into the ocean.
Researchers say more than 16,000 desalination plants around the globe produce more toxic sludge than freshwater.
For every liter of freshwater extracted from the sea or brackish water, a liter-and-a-half of salty slurry is deposed at sea or on land, according to a 2019 study in the journal Science.
All that extra salt raises the temperature of coastal waters and decreases the level of oxygen, which can conspire to create biological “dead zones.”
The super-salty substance is made even more toxic by the chemicals used in the desalination process.
Oman’s bigger neighbors produce the bulk of the brine.
More than half comes from just four countries — Saudi Arabia, at 22 percent, United Arab Emirates with 20 percent, and smaller shares by Kuwait and Qatar, according to UN data.
“Brine production in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar accounts for 55 percent of the total global share,” according to the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health.
It said new strategies are needed “to limit the negative environmental impacts and reduce the economic cost of disposal.”
This would help “to safeguard water supplies for current and future generations.”
At the Sur plant, “almost no chemicals” are used during the pre-treatment phase, as the water is naturally filtered through the cracks of karst rocks, said Mahendran Senapathy, operations manager at French company Veolia which runs the plant along with an Omani firm.
There are other ways to safeguard freshwater supplies, from encouraging savings and efficiently to recycling wastewater.
Antoine Frerot, chief executive of Veolia, said wastewater recycling will help resolve the problem of water scarcity.
He also pointed out that “reused water is less costly,” nearly one third less than that won through desalination.
Omani authorities continue to mount campaigns urging people to use water wisely, mindful that other demands — especially the energy sector — also guzzle up large amounts.
Across the Gulf, huge amounts of water are used not just for homes, gardens and golf courses, but also for the energy sector that is the source of the region’s often spectacular wealth.
On the edge of the Arabian peninsula’s “Empty Quarter,” the world’s largest expanse of sand, lies the Khazzan gas field, operated by BP and the Oman Oil Company.
The method used to extract the gas here is hydraulic fracturing — more commonly known as fracking — said Stewart Robertson, operations manager at the site.
The method requires huge amounts of water. The site is supplied by a facility that provides 6,000 cubic meters of water a day, extracted from an underground aquifer 50 kilometers (30 miles) away.
Fracking involves directional drilling and then pumping water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to fracture rock and release the hydrocarbons.
The rock formations that hold the gas are “like a big sponge with lots of little holes in it,” said Robertson, explaining that fracking is the process “to open those holes slightly to take the gas out.”
So the more the region extracts oil and natural or shale gas, “the more they need water,” said Charles Iceland of the World Resources Institute.
“The Middle East is projected to need more and more energy,” he said. “So that means the situation is going to get worse.”
“On the other hand,” he said, “if they can produce power using solar photovoltaic technologies, which are getting reasonably priced in the Middle East, that would take care of a lot of the problem because solar PV doesn’t need much water.
“You need just some water to clean the solar panels.”