Palestinian Policy and Regional Environmental Cooperation
The Palestinian policy on regional cooperation in the field of the environment is an integrated part of the proposed environmental strategy put forth for the next five years, first by the Palestinian Environmental Protection Authority (PEPA), and then stressed by the Palestinian delegation to the multilateral peace talks and the bilateral negotiations, and lately by the Environmental Planning Directorate (EPD). Our strategy is based on building the infrastructure and institutions in such a way as to ensure the possibility of implementing practical projects and plans for the preservation of our limited resources, on the one hand, and for building Palestinian capabilities in the field of environmental monitoring, on the other.
The Palestinian policy as presented by its delegation to the multilateral negotiations in the 'peace process has always been clear: "to explore the potential for cooperation in the field of the environment in an effort to further promote the peace process, to achieve sustainable stability in the Middle East, and to make the world a greener and safer place to live in."
One of the reasons why we have called for regional cooperation in the field of the environment is our firm belief that "... environmental systems are naturally inter-related, interactive, inter-meshing and complementary." Thus, international cooperation is needed to preserve natural resources and to maintain environmental equilibrium, with the objective of sustaining human life.

The State of the Palestinian Environment

The prevailing environmental conditions in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip are the result of over 30 years of occupation policy which made the Palestinians dependent upon the resources and services provided by Israel. The aim was to prevent future political arrangements which would evolve into a separation of the two entities. This Israeli policy was predicated on the physical control of Palestinian land and water resources; the integration of the infrastructure; the absorption of the Palestinian work force into the Israeli economy; the subordination of the economy of the occupied territories as a tariff-free market for Israeli commodities without reciprocation; and, finally, the control of pollution should its effects reach Israel proper.
Given the above facts, the various Palestinian delegations have emphasized the reality of a continued Israeli military occupation in the West Bank and parts of the Gaza Strip, and brought up some of the environmental issues that should be addressed:
Land Confiscation: It is estimated that the proportion of Palestinian land confiscated, closed off or seized by the Israeli authorities has exceeded 60 percent of Palestinian-owned land. Despite the Israeli authorities' claim that they were not building any new settlements in the West Bank, the expansion of existing settlements still continues, e.g., Ariel which has doubled in less than one year.
Water and Water Supply: Water sources in the occupied territories are under the total control of the Israeli authorities who use over 80 percent of the precious resource. New water wells, networks and reservoirs are being built for the Jewish settlements in the West Bank at a time when most of Palestinian towns and villages are suffering from severe water shortages.
Waste Management: Most of the environmental issues in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were neglected by the Israeli Civil Administration during its occupation of the area. Wastewater collection and treatment were not given the required attention; therefore, only four towns in the West Bank had collection systems or treatment plants built in the early 1970s. None of the Palestinian villages has any collection or treatment plants other than cesspools, which has affected the quality of most of the rain-fed cisterns, the only source of drinking water for most of the villages.
Solid waste collection and disposal were also neglected in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. This has led to the accumulation of waste all over the area, especially in the Gaza Strip where crude dumping is evident and poses environmentally related health hazards. Local municipalities face serious difficulties in the disposal of certain wastes, like pumped sewage, construction and demolition debris, hospital and slaughterhouse waste and, to some extent, industrial waste.
Agriculture: Palestinian farmers have been denied access to information services on the current use of pesticides and fertilizers. Some of the internationally suspended or banned pesticides are still being used in the occupied territories. Furthermore, agriculture is being impeded by restrictions imposed on water usage, as well as by massive land confiscation by the Israeli authorities.
Deforestation: It is estimated that the total forest area in Palestine is close to 0.5 percent of the total land area. It is a fact that the Israeli authorities have prohibited the wide-scale planting of trees to avoid legal obstacles to subsequent confiscations of land, as the presence of trees slows down the legal procedure permitting confiscation.

The Policy

The Palestinian policy towards regional cooperation in the field of the environment was formulated in the first round of multilateral negotiations and then expressed in the Protocol concerning civil affairs in the Israeli¬-Palestinian peace documents as part of the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government. In the Protocol, it was agreed that Israelis and Palestinians shall act together for the protection of the environment and the prevention, among other things, of environmental risks, hazards, and nuisances, and was clarified in the following points:
• Environmental problems are common to all nations, regardless of national boundaries, and cooperation and coordination are needed to put forward common environmental policies, including the exchange of technical expertise.
• The prerequisites for regional cooperation as spelt out by negotiators include an atmosphere of peace, security and stability, based on the national rights of peoples; a relationship based on equality, mutual respect and good neighborly relations; an enhancement of administra¬tive and legislative infrastructure in the occupied territories in order to create common grounds of action; and an achievement of tangible progress in bilateral talks in order to promote the required atmosphere for rational and long-lasting regional cooperation.
• Specific environmental issues, such as industrial pollution, desertifica¬tion, and nuclear activities were identified and considered as areas of possible cooperation.
• The Palestinian Environmental Protection Authority was proposed, and tasks and activities were identified.

Framework for a Cooperation Policy

While environmental problems are supra-boundary, necessitating a regional solution, nonetheless every state/party has the full right to formulate its own environmental policies with regard to its natural resources, but taking care not to affect negatively the environment in neighboring countries. In fact, economic development in each country should be in harmony with environmental protection. And as political issues are tackled by politicians, non-political issues, such as the environment, can and should be handled through regional environmental cooperation to the benefit of all parties.
In keeping with the above principles, Palestinians have participated in all rounds of the multilateral talks and in inter-sessional and joint research activities. Palestinians were sent to a number of neighboring countries to train in environment-related fields. We started formulating our environmental laws, regulations and by-laws, based on the experience of other regional and non-regional countries, and, finally, we have established the Joint Environmental Experts Committee.

Are We Ready for Regional Cooperation?

All of the Palestinian delegations to international, regional or bilateral meetings have stressed the fact that Palestine is not yet ready for regional cooperation for a number of reasons. First, cooperation should always take place between equals, and Palestine is still lagging• behind in terms of infrastructure, technology and information. We have always stressed that Palestine would be part of regional cooperation efforts were we to be given the chance and the means to achieve parity with the other countries in the area. Second, the Israeli practices of continued uprooting of trees and of land confiscation for "security" purposes or for bypass roads or any other reason, lead to the degradation of the environment in Palestinian land and do not indicate any respect for Palestinian rights on the part of Israel. Finally, the current Israeli reluctance, indeed, unwillingness to recognize Palestinian rights, and the possibility and the belief that Israel will create obstacles for the performance of the Palestinian Authority or for the establishment of an independent state, hinder the acceptance by Palestinians of a smooth reconciliation process or for forgetting the past easily.