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Israeli minister offers plan to control West Bank water

JERUSALEM, May 21 (JTA) — A hard-line member of the Israeli government has proposed that Israel declare its sovereignty over large portions of the West Bank in order to ensure control over water sources. National Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon raised the proposal at a meeting of senior ministers on the future of Israeli water sources, according to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz. Implementation of the plan would require that Israel significantly reduce the amount of land it eventually transfers to the Palestinian Authority, Ha’aretz reported. Sharon proposed that in return, Israel would triple its water supply to Palestinian towns. The Palestinians would also be obliged to build purification systems for waste water and sewage in order to prevent the contamination of water sources. The water issue has become a source of friction between Israel and the United States because Sharon’s ministry has refused to fulfill an understanding reached with the former Labor government of Yitzhak Rabin, Ha’aretz reported. That understanding provided that the United States would allocate $46 million for an American company to drill three wells for Palestinians in the West Bank. U.S. officials said Israel had approved two of the wells, but without authorization of the third, the work could not begin. Sharon has demanded that the Palestinians first provide a plan for sewage disposal in the area. The U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, met with Sharon recently to discuss the matter.

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