Jerusalem slams Dutch water company’s ‘self-righteous hypocrisy’

Vitens cut ties with Israeli water company because it operates in West Bank, but continues to work with Hamas utility company

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

A worker at the Eshkol Water Filtration Plant in Northern Israel, operated by Israel's National Water Company Mekorot (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)
A worker at the Eshkol Water Filtration Plant in Northern Israel, operated by Israel's National Water Company Mekorot (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Israel on Thursday condemned the “self-righteous hypocrisy” of Dutch government-owned water company Vitens, after it emerged that the company still cooperates with the water authorities in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. On Tuesday, Vitens had announced it would cease working with Israel’s national water supplier Mekorot because it provides water to Jewish communities in the West Bank.

“This only confirms yet again that Vitens’ move regarding Mekorot is heavily tainted with self-righteous hypocrisy and has nothing to do with international law,” the spokesperson of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Yigal Palmor, told The Times of Israel Thursday. “Cowardly caving in to pressure by radicals and extremists will only encourage more iniquitous actions, and Vitens’s verbose moralizing will bring them more of this kind.”

Mekorot has been criticized in the Netherlands — both by local media and in parliament  — as a company that drills for water in the West Bank and was suspected of discriminating against Palestinians in the way it distributes water, according to Haaretz.

The Netherlands’ Ambassador to Israel, Caspar Veldkamp, was invited to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, where officials “expressed their protest,” Palmor said. The official complaint, in which Jerusalem reportedly accused the Netherlands of fostering a “pro-boycott atmosphere,” came on the heels of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s visit to Israel earlier this week.

The Dutch government insists that Vitens took the decision to bow out of any cooperation with Mekorot independently. But Vitens said it held consultations with the Dutch Foreign Ministry.

Vitens said it was cutting ties with Mekorot because “it would be very difficult to develop joint ventures together, considering the fact that they cannot be seen as divorced from their political context.” A company statement added: “We follow international law.”

However, earlier this month Vitens announced an agreement with Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU), a governmental arm of the Hamas government in Gaza. The cooperation between Vitens and CMWU “has a strong consultative character, with possibility for future involvement of additional parties,” the Dutch company stated on its website.

According the United Nations, CMWU is Gaza’s sole service provider for water. Regulated by the Palestinian Water Authority, it receives funding from the World Bank, the European Union and other international bodies.

Dutch politicians, too, accused Vitens of hypocrisy for working with CMWU but not with Mekorot. “We believe that as a Dutch water company, Vitens should content itself with providing clean and good water to its clients in the Netherlands,” René Dercksen, a lawmaker in the provincial parliament of Utrecht, where Vitens is headquartered, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “But if it chooses to be political, it needs to be consistent. Working with government in Gaza inevitably means working with Hamas, which the European Union views as a terrorist group. This is an unusual choice for a company which is concerned with international law.”

Han ten Broeke, a prominent parliamentarian for the Netherlands’ ruling People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, said Vitens’ decision to cut ties with Mekorot was “not a case of discouraging Israeli settlements, but rather the unmasking of a superimposed activism.”

The Netherlands’ largest drinking water company, Vitens provides water to 5.4 million Dutch people. According to the company’s website, Vitens seeks to look “beyond the national borders,” being involved in providing water to more than 20 million people across the globe.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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