Peace center drawing up plans for desalinization in Israel

JERUSALEM — A U.S.-based center said in late June that it is trying to organize a $450 million project to construct two desalinization plants along the Mediterranean coast to ease the regional water crisis expected in the next decade.

The Center for Peace and Economic Cooperation in the Middle East, headed by former U.S. House of Representatives member Wayne Owens, intends to place one desalinization plant outside Hadera for use in Israel. The other plant would be located in Gaza for Palestinian use.

Sources involved in the project said Owens held several meetings with officials, economic institutions and industrialists to advance the project.

He said a feasibility study conducted over the last few months by the Arthur Anderson accounting firm determined that the desalinization plants would be cost-effective and help solve the water shortage that some experts predict might begin as early as 2008.

The study said that desalinization plants have succeeded in increasing the supply of drinking water in 120 countries where the facilities currently operate.

Project organizers said the Hadera plant would provide 100 million cubic meters of drinking water annually, which comprises 20 percent of the national consumption.

Owens said that the center is in contact with both Israeli and American entrepreneurs who might invest in the project. U.S. officials have been working for several years to find solutions to ensure both Israel and the Palestinian Authority sufficient water resources.

In 1995, the government of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin formally recognized Palestinian rights to water resources and said the details would be worked out in final-status negotiations.

The Palestinians claim rights to all water emanating from the West Bank even if the water reaches Israel.

This includes two major aquifers, one which runs along the coast and one that is found in the northern part of the West Bank and the Bet She'an area.