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IN THE PRESENT POSITIVE ENVIRONMENT and advanced stages in the search for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after the signing of the Oslo agreement of 1993 and the Sharm al-Sheikh agreement of 1999, some have claimed that the disputes over shared water resources can become a major roadblock in the final stages of the path of peace. In fact, some of the major opponents in Israel to reaching an accommodation with the Palestinians, based on the principal of territorial compromise and the establishment of an independent Palestinian entity or state, use the fear of threats to Israel's water resources and Israel's "water security" as one of their main emotion laden arguments against reaching an accommodation.

On the other hand, a just and equitable solution to the severe water problems faced by both sides, which will bring social and economic benefits to all, can provide a major impetus to the peace process (Shuval, 1992). It is the goal of this paper to analyze the developments in recent years towards possible approaches to a just resolution of this problem, which can meet the legitimate needs of both Israelis and the Palestinians.

One of the main issues under dispute is the shared use of the mountain aquifer, the major portion of the recharge area of which lies under the occupied territories in the West Bank but which flow naturally into Israeli territory both to the northeast and to the west. Historically, major portions of the ground water of the mountain aquifer have been utilized by early Jewish farmers who settled in Palestine during the period of Turkish rule before 1918 and then under the British Mandate going back some 60-80 years (Blass, 1960). This intensive development of the aquifer continued after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, which was based on the decision of the United Nations in 1947.

In essence, Israel was utilizing a major portion of the safe yield of the western and northeastern sectors of the mountain aquifer, through the full development of the springs, rivers and wells long before the occupation of the West Bank by Israel in 1967. Thus, Israel bases its claims for the continued utilization of these waters on one of the cardinal principles of international water law-prior historic use and the prevention of significant damage that would result from the loss of their current water resources which are fully used to meet vital Israeli economic and human needs (Caponera, 1992).

The Palestinians, on the other hand, base their claims on these very same waters, which arise mainly as rainfall over the areas populated mainly by the Palestinians and now partially under the control and rule of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank with equal determination, on the principles of international law which call for equitable sharing of international trans-boundary water resources as well as on hydrological and geographic considerations and demands for the recognition of their historic national water rights which they feel belongs to the land in which they live, no less than their current urgent human and social needs. There are also serious questions as to the water resources needs of Gaza, which requires an urgent solution, but they will only be dealt with peripherally in this paper.

On the assumption that as an out-come of the Oslo peace process which has been accepted both by the current Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority some form of Palestinian State or autonomous entity will evolve in stages in all or part of the occupied territories, it is apparent that the mountain aquifer will be considered under international law as a shared body of trans-boundary groundwater (Caponera, 1992) with claims and counter claims by both sides as to its future utilization and control, which must be resolved if a peace agreement is to be achieved. Even many of those in Israel who oppose the establishment of a Palestinian State or autonomy based on a territorial compromise, recognize that the water needs of the Palestinian population of the occupied territories, as it grows and develops will essentially be the same regardless of the nature of the political solution and will have to be met from the same shared pool of water resources.


The mountain aquifer covers the central area of the occupied territories on both sides of what are called in Israel the Judaean and Samarian Mountain range and extends generally from the Jezreal Valley (near Afula) in the North to the Beersheba Valley in the South and from the foot hills of the Judean Mountains near the Mediterranean in the West to the Jordan River in the East (See Figure 1). The mountain aquifer is mainly of karstic limestone/dolamite formations with permeable recharge areas mostly along the upper mountain slopes and ridges at levels above 500 meters above sea level. Most of the exploitation of the aquifer is by natural springs and artesian wells drilled in the confined areas of the aquifer on the lower slopes of the Samarian and Judaean Mountain range below the elevation of 500 m largely within the borders of Israel (Gvirtzman, 1994). The mountain aquifer can be divided schematically into three general zones. The Western (Yarkon-Taninim), the northeastern (Schem/NablusGilboa) and the easte rn aquifers as show in Figure 1. The Western aquifer which flows towards the Mediterranean Sea to its historic natural outlets at the Rosh Ha'Ayin (Ras el Ein) Springs which fed the Yarkon River (El Uja) near Tel Aviv/Jaffa in the south and the Tanninim Springs and river near Hadera in the north, is called the Yarkon-Taninim aquifer in Israel. This aquifer has an estimated mean average safe yield of about 350-360 million cubic meters/year (MCM/Yr) including some 40 MCM/Yr of brackish water, having more than 1000 mg/I of total dissolved solids (Goldberger, 1992). A detailed and accurate inventory of the historic use of the aquifer is beyond the scope of this paper, however some qualitative descriptions of past use are presented. The early use of the aquifer by the Palestinian Arab population was limited to a part of the flow of springs such as those at Rosh Ha-Ayin and the Tanninim, as well as some deep traditional dug wells in the Qualqiliya and Tulkarim areas estimated at some 25-35 million cubic meter/year (MCM./Yr) utilizing less than 10 percent of the potential yield of the aquifer.

The Palestinian Arab farmers, villages and towns were mainly poor and did not have any organized framework or the financial resources to develop the natural water resources of the region; as a result most of the water potential was left untouched. Before 1948 few Palestinian villages had developed central water supply systems supplying piped water to the homes. Little was done in that direction during the years 1948 to 1967 under the Jordanian administration of the area. The fact that the areas surrounding the natural spring outlet of the Western Aquifer and North Eastern Aquifer were well known for their malarious swamps provides historic evidence that at the beginning of this century most of the water went unutilized.

The British Mandatory Government granted Pinchas Rutenberg, a Jewish engineer, an exclusive concession for the use of the waters of the Yarkon River in 1920. The intensive exploitation of this aquifer initiated by the early Jewish farmers some 80 years ago, starting in the 1920s, included pumping from the Yarkon River to irrigate extensive orange groves in the area between Tel Aviv and Petach Tikva and by numerous drilled wells in the Hadera area (Blass, 1960).

The British. Mandatory Government also tapped the Rash Ha'Ayin Springs as the source of the water supply for Jerusalem, the majority of the population of which was Jewish. Prior to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Jewish farmers were already utilizing a significant portion of the safe yield from the springs, rivers and deep wells, while the remainder of the aquifer's potential was developed rapidly, mainly by Israel, within the boundaries of State of Israel in the period of 1948-1965. The main Israeli water project utilizing the aquifer was the Yarkon-Negev Pipeline completed in 1954 which pumped some 200 MCM/yr, which is essentially the total flow of the Rosh Ha'Ayin Springs. Today the aquifer is tapped by about 300 hundred wells located to the west of the "green line," that is, within the boundaries of Israel. Since the occupation of the West Bank, Israel has dug some wells in the Western Aquifer for new Israel settlements over the green line in West Bank, areas formerly administered by Jo rdan. It is questionable if Israel can claim prior historic use in the case of such wells. The exact amount of water pumped by these wells is not published by the Israeli authorities.

From the engineering and hydrological point of view the most appropriate place to tap the aquifer is over the deeper confined artesian areas on the foot hills and lower slopes of the mountains towards the Mediterranean Sea, the major portion of which is within Israel. While it is technically possible to drill deep wells to tap the thinner non-confined zones of the aquifer from the mountain top areas within the West Bank, the wells required must be deeper and their yields are lower, thus the potential withdrawal of water from the Western Aquifer from within the West Bank is more limited and more expensive than pumping from wells in Israel near the coastal plain.

The North Eastern Aquifer, called in Israel, the Schem-Gilboa Aquifer, starting near Schem (Nablus) flows towards the Gilbon Mountains and Jezreal and Bet Shean Valleys to the north-east. The historic natural drainage outlets, of what is described by Israeli hydrologists as the Bet-Shean-Harod multiple aquifer system, are the Ein Harod and Bet Shean springs. Some springs and wells have been utilized historically by the local Palestinian villagers, while a portion of its flow was utilized by the early Jewish farmers and water companies in the 1920's long before the establishment of Israel in 1948. One of the early large-scale water utilization projects by Jewish settlers, was that at the Ma'ayan Harod Springs in the Jezreal Valley (going back to the 1930's) (Blass, 1960). These springs or the wells that replaced them for better flow regulation still serve as the natural flow outlet of the aquifer and are located within Israel. After 1948 the aquifer was fully utilized within, Israel.

The potential safe yield of the northeastern Basin (Schem/Nablus-Gilboa) is estimated by the Israel Hydrological Service (Goldberger, 1992) at about 130 MCM/Yr, part of which is brackish. Of this amount it is estimated that Israel utilizes some 100 MCM/Yr from historic natural sources within Israeli borders and supplies some 5MCM/Yr from new wells within the West Bank to new Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley, while about 30 MCM/Yr or 23 percent is used by the Palestinians.

The Eastern Aquifer has two main strata. The Upper Cenomanian and the Lower Cenomanian which are separated by an impermeable strata several hundred meters thick. The Upper Cenomanian Aquifer is a relatively thin strata which drains naturally to the east to series of springs including Uja, Samiya and Kilt which have historically been used by the Palestinians. This aquifer has only a very limited storage capacity and thus the flow from the springs is subject to major inter-seasonal fluctuations and is dependent on the rainfall of the immediate previous season.

The natural flow of these springs and others like them was drastically reduced as a result of the severe drought conditions of the area during the years 1988-1991. Some springs and wells almost completely dried up. While some Palestinian hydrologists blamed Israel's new wells in the area as the cause of the dry springs, after the heavy rains of the 1991-1992 season the flow from most of the springs was revived. A similar and more drastic drying up of natural springs and wells has resulted from the severe drought of 1998/99.

The Lower Cenomanian Aquifer is a deep initially fresh water aquifer that flows naturally to the east from the high mountain infiltration area down to the Jordan Valley where it apparently mixes with strata of saline ground water. This brackish water flow has historically either seeped to the surface of the Jordan Valley or evaporated or partially seeped into the Jordan River.

The Eastern Aquifer flows from the mountain ridges towards the Jordan River and estimates of its safe yield vary between some 150-200 MCM/Yr, part of which is brackish. It has been estimated that Palestinians currently utilize some 6OMCM/Yr including brackish water. Much of the flow from mountain springs, such as the Wadi Kelt, and Wadi Uja Springs and some wells were historically utilized by Palestinian villagers and farmers. An ancient aqueduct from the Wadi Kelt Springs transported the water for irrigation by Palestinian farmers in the Jordan Valley.

Since the occupation of the area in 1967, Israel has dug numerous new wells in the mountain aquifer within the area of the West Bank mainly drawing upon previously un-exploited sources to supply water to new Israeli settlements. The Israeli wells have diverted the flow before it become saline in the lower reaches of the 2inrdan valley. Official information on the exact amount of water withdrawn by Israel from within the West Bank Aquifer in not available, but reliable estimates indicated that it may be about 35-45 MCM/Yr from the Eastern Aquifer and another 10-15 MCM from the Western and North-Eastern Aquifers for an estimated combined withdrawal of some 45 to 60 MCM/Yr The yet un-exploited potential safe yield available to the Palestinians in the Eastern Aquifer has not been determined accurately but may be somewhere between 50 and 100 MCM/Yr. In the Oslo B Accord it is stated that 78 MGM/Yr of un-exploited water in the Eastern Aquifer is available for unrestricted Palestinian development and use, Thus, at this time, it can be estimated that the Palestinians use some 60MCM/Yr, the Israelis use some 45MCM/Yr and that some 50-100 MCM flows to the Jordan River and the Dead Sea as saline or brackish water. However, it is anticipated that much of that saline or brackish water can be tapped for Palestinian use by wells on the higher mountain slopes prior to its becoming saline/brackish. Exactly how much is an open question. For the purposes of this analysis we have assumed that an additional 50 MCM/Yr of fresh water potential will most likely be available to the Palestinians from further exploitation of the Eastern Aquifer and that possibly another 30 MCM/Yr may eventually be extracted from that source.

As mentioned above, since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank territories in 1967, the Israeli authorities have tapped the sweet water sources of this aquifer with a number of new very deep wells along the upper slopes prior to its becoming more saline, mainly for the use of new Israel settlements in the area. In some cases the Palestinians claim that this has reduced the flow from their traditional springs and wells. As mentioned above some of the reported cases of flow reduction coincided with the severe draught period of 1988-1991. While Israeli hydrological studies suggest that there is no physical connection between the new deep wells in the Lower Cenomanion Aquifer and the traditional shallower wells whose source is the Upper Cenomnian Aquifer, Palestinians claim that there may be a connection since the Israeli wells pass through both aquifers or they may be connected by fissures or faults in the rock formations. This remains an open issue, which must be resolved.

The Palestinians claim and some Israeli international law experts agree that any water extraction within the West Bank after 1967 for Israeli civilian settlements is illegal and in violation of the Geneva Convention concerning the rights and obligations of what is defined as "belligerent occupier" (El-Hindi, 1990; Benvenisti, 1994). Their position is that while a" belligerent occupier" may use those natural resources of the occupied area required to support the military forces of occupation, they cannot be used to support civilian activities by the occupying power.

To summarize our tentative estimate of the total mean renewable fresh and brackish water potential of the mountain aquifer and its current utilization by Israel and the Palestinians: It would appear that today of the estimated 630-MCM/Yr of known mean potential safe yield of the mountain aquifer, 410 MCM is now and has been utilized within Israel's borders prior to 1967, with much of its use going back some 60-80 years. Some 110 MCM/Yr is currently used by the Palestinians, while another 45-60 MCM/Yr is pumped by Israel from new wells drilled since 1967 within the West Bank for use mainly by the new Israeli civilian settlements there. It is estimated that there may be about another 50-100 MCM/Yr of un-utilized water in the Eastern Aquifer, which might be tapped for Palestinian use as sweet water through deep wells.

The Palestinians pump another 100 MCM/Yr from the coastal aquifer in Gaza, although most authorities agree that the annual recharge of that aquifer would allow for a mean safe yield of only about 60-80 MCM/Yr, thus the total estimated Palestinian water supply in the year 2000 is about 210 MCM/Yr with a possible untapped potential reserve in the East Aquifer of 50 MCM/Yr for a total current water potential of 260 MCM/Yr. Thus without reducing Israel's pre-1967 water withdrawal rates from the mountain aquifer, the potential water increases that might be available to the Palestinians would be some 50 MCM/Yr from new wells in the Eastern Aquifer and possibly some 50 MCM from existing Israeli wells of disputed legality drilled by Israel in the West Bank after the 1967 occupation, to supply water to Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank.

As can be seen in Figure 1 the major portion of the recharge area of the Western Mountain Aquifer is in the Occupied Territories. Almost all of the recharge area of the North Eastern and Eastern Aquifers lie within the West Bank" area (Gvirtzman, 1994). Thus a rough preliminary estimate of the ground water flow of the mountain aquifer which originates as rainfall within the Occupied Territories indicates that it is some 80-90 percent of the total flow. However, Gvirtzman estimates that much or most of the storage and optimal pumping area of the Western and North Eastern aquifers which serve as its natural historical outlet lies under Israeli territory (Gvirtzman, 1994). As will be pointed out elsewhere the sources of the flow of a trans-boundary body of water, including groundwater, is not the sole criteria in determining water rights.


In order better to understand the nature of the conflict and its intensity, it is essential to spell out, in some detail the stated claims and counter-claims as well as the real and perceived fears and concerns of the sides in the dispute over the mountain aquifer which are often expressed in emotional terms.

Palestinian Claims and Concerns

1. The Palestinians claim that the flow of the western and north eastern sectors of the mountain aquifer that is derived from rainfall over the West Bank, 90 percent of which is currently extracted from deep wells mainly within Israel is Palestinian water which should be allocated for their use. This demand is based on the claim that the nation controlling the land, which serves as the source of the water, should be given first priority in its utilization.

2. The Palestinians are concerned that owing to the power of the Israeli agricultural lobby's demands for more and more water and development requirements resulting from the mass immigration of Jews from Russia, (the former Soviet Union) as well as other countries Israel will use more and more of the water from the mountain aquifer depriving the Palestinians of their fair share. They point out that Israel's much criticized, long term over-pumping of the aquifer (State Controllor, 1990) is a serious threat to the Palestinians' future essential water reserves.

3. The Palestinians claim that the Israel Civil Administration has effectively frozen Palestinian utilization of water sources in the occupied territories and has allocated insufficient amounts for domestic, urban and industrial use and practically no water whatsoever for increased agricultural development to meet the needs of the growing population. They claim that during the period of the occupation, the Israel authorities have developed many new water supplies in the occupied territories and have allocated significant amounts of water for agricultural and urban use for new Jewish settlement in the areas (United Nations, 1983). The Palestinians claim that by doing this Israel has violated the Geneva Convention and misused its authority as the "belligerent occupier" (El-Hindi, 1990). Particularly aggravating to water-short Palestinian villagers is the perception of wasteful Israeli water use and landscape practices which often include the irrigation of extensive lawns and the construction of swimming pools.

4. The Palestinians claim that in the process of drilling new Israeli deep wells within the occupied territories there have been cases of lowering the aquifer and drying out traditional springs and shallow wells used for domestic and agricultural purposes in neighboring Palestinian communities. They claim that Israel's pumping of ground water near the Gaza strip has caused the severe salination of the wells in Gaza. Even when the Israeli authorities supply alternative water to the communities that lost their original wells or springs, through the Israeli Mekorot Water Company, the cost to the villagers is significantly increased, while this is viewed as a method of Israeli control and domination over the Palestinian residents (Global Viewpoints Forum, 1990).

5. The Palestinians point with concern to the fact that in all new water projects developed by Israel in the territories, serving Palestinian communities, key controlling elements such as regional reservoirs, valves and control points are located within Jewish settlements and are viewed as a method of domination.

6. The Palestinians fear that even if a peace settlement is achieved with an appropriate Palestinian State being established, that the agreed upon division of the very limited shared water resources will leave them with insufficient amounts of water to allow for normal population growth and the resettlement of the Palestinian Diaspora within their own territory, with the required urban, industrial and agricultural development to allow them to be economically viable.

7. In the event of major regional projects to import water to the area for Jordan, Palestinian and Israeli use there is concern and fear over the possibility that Israel will obtain practical as well as political control over the waters to be supplied to the Palestinians and Jordan through, for example, the use of the Sea of Galilee as a long term inter-seasonal and inter-annual storage reservoir. There is likewise concern that other nations of the region, who may supply the additional water or through whose country water pipelines pass, will use the water supply lines for purposes of political control, as Turkey did in the case of the Iraqi oil pipelines during the Gulf War of 1990-1991.

8. In general the Palestinians claim the priority rights to complete and total control of "Palestinian" water (the mountain aquifer) which should be available to them directly within their own territory without being under Israeli control. They suggest that complicated schemes to supply them water from Israel, import water from other nations or desalinate sea water be allocated to Israel which in return should forgo claims to the local, easily accessible, "Palestinian" water sources underneath the Palestinian controlled lands of the Palestinian Authority/Palestinian State and in the West Bank in general (Global Viewpoints Forum, 1990).

Israel's Claims and Concerns:

1. Israel claims that it has legitimate historical riparian rights to most of the flow of the Mountain Aquifer, based on the principle of International Law of prior use of the Mountain Aquifer, major portions of which flow naturally into its territory and which has been developed at great expense and fully utilized for essential human use economic sustainability over a period of time going back some 60-80 years.

2. Israel is concerned that if the Palestinians achieve autonomy or independence, in all or part of the currently Israel occupied territories of the West Bank, they will, once they gain physical control of the territory, insist on making good on their claim that all of the water of the shared Yarkon-Tananim Aquifer (western sector of the Mountain Aquifer) that is derived from rainfall within the West Bank (estimated to be about 80 percent of the total flow of the aquifer) be allocated exclusively for their own use. Many Israelis fear that the once given independence, the Palestinians will drill many new wells in the aquifer and increase the pumping rates in an unsupervised and uncontrolled manner, which will result in seriously lowering the water table and depriving Israel of water resources essential for its survival. This fear is compounded in Israel's eyes by Palestinian stated goals of returning large segments of the Palestinian Diaspora to any independent entity which is established.

3. Some Israelis fear that there will be a major unregulated increase of pumping from the aquifer by the Palestinians in the West Bank area once they gain independence, as they have done in Gaza after achieving independence there. They fear that in the process this will lead to the drying up of the wells on the Israeli side of the border, leading to a serious shortage of water in Israel. It might mean a drastic reduction of Israel's most important, high quality, source of drinking water. It might mean a reduction of Israel's current utilization of that aquifer by some 300 MCM/Yr cutting off of the drinking water supplies for some three million people. This would result in a serious threat to Israel's viability, which would find to be completely unacceptable.

4. Even if an equitable agreement is achieved on the division of the waters of the Mountain aquifer between Israel and any future Palestinian entity or state, there is serious concern about the possible degradation of the quality of the water of the shared Mountain Aquifer as a result of inadequate monitoring and control of urban pollution, wastewater and toxic agricultural and industrial wastes in the West Bank, that could cause serious pollution in the highly susceptible karstic limestone aquifer in the downstream areas of the aquifer that drain naturally into Israel, making the water within Israel unfit for human consumption. In 1990, General (Reserves) Raphael Etan, at that time the Minister of Agriculture of Israel, published a full page ad in the Israel press (Jerusalem Post, 10 August 1990) expressing many of the above concerns, declaring that because of the water issue alone, Israel can never give up the physical control of any of the occupied territories since they are absolutely essential for the pr eservation of the country's vital water resources. He cited both the threat of the diversion and/or overpumping of water vital to Israel and the danger of environmental pollution of the shared Mountain Aquifer. These same argument are being used at this time to oppose handing any water sources or land to the Palestinians, which in effect means maintaining Israeli authority and control over most of the key areas of the West Bank.

5. There is also concern that unregulated over-pumping of the mountain aquifer in the West Bank areas could lead to a serious lowering of the water table with the resulting danger of sea-water intrusion and irreversible damage to the shared aquifer which could be a real threat to both partners.

6. Israeli officials hold that the Palestinians have not been deprived of the use of needed water. They cite the construction of many dozens of new village piped water supplies, introduced by Israel since the end of Jordanian rule in 1967; the granting of permits to the Palestinians to drill some 40 new deep wells and the importation of water from the Israeli National Water Carrier to increase the water supplies to Palestinian cities and villages in the occupied territories. According to the claims of some Israelis, the total water supply and per capita use in the occupied territories has increased significantly during the period of the Israel administration. Israeli hydrologists say there is limited connection between the ground water in Gaza and Israel and that the salination of wells in Gaza is solely the result of years of overpumping by the Palestinians mainly before 1967 and after independence. Israel also points out that many of the claims of drying up of Palestinian wells and springs coincided with th e 1988-1991 drought period and may have nothing to do with the Israel water development projects.

In light of the above partial list of the claims and counter claims of the parties, which seem irreconcilable, what can be done to resolve this conflict? Let us examine the possible contribution of international water law.


Throughout history there have been conflicts over the use of shared international bodies of water called international river/drainage basins or transboundary waters. Both upstream and downstream countries have claimed absolute sovereign rights to such waters and have, at times, been in conflict over such questions. International water law has evolved mainly over surface water issues but according to an early paper by Caponera and Alheritiere (1978) the legal principles and practice which have evolved for questions of surface water disputes apply by extrapolation to questions of ground water. Since then the status of ground water law has become well established in key documents of the International Law Association and the International Law Commission of the United Nations (Bebreris, 1991; Haston and Utton, 1989).

In the current era, where the concept of peaceful cooperation between nations over the use of shared resources has become the normative pattern in international relations, new views in international water law have developed. More recent concepts are those of "equitable apportionment" of shared international water resources (Caponera, 1992). This more enlightened and peaceful approach was first summed up in the "Helsinki Rules" of 1966 recommendations of the International Law Association (Caponera, 1992) which propose that water disputes be settled by negotiations. Article TV of the Helsinki rules state that "Each basin state is entitled, within its territory, to a reasonable and equitable share in the beneficial uses of the waters on an international drainage basin". These rules take into consideration prior historic use as well as factors concerning the sources of the water such as the geography and hydrology of the area. They further provide for taking into account, among other means, possible alternative water sources that might be available to one of the parties, the possibility of economic compensation and the economic and social needs of each state.

The spirit if not the letter of the Helsinki rules have recently received international status with the approval by the United Nations of the proposal of the International Law Commission on international water bodies. The International Law Commission report as amended by the UN General Assembly includes the key phrase that no appreciable damage should be caused to any of the riparians on an international drainage basin, some legal experts interpret this to mean that downstream countries such as Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Israel, with claims of prior historic use of a shared water resource have the right to continue that use since depriving them of those waters by an upstream country would cause them appreciable damage. On the other hand, others claim that an upstream country deprived of vital waters which arise in that country and which are urgently needed to meet current human and social needs such as vital water supplies for drinking/domestic/urban use causes them appreciable damage that must be redressed. The definitive legal interpretation of that point has yet to be determined by the World Court.

However, despite the moral weight of the principles of international water law and the fact that there is now a proposed United Nations International Convention on the subject, there is in effect no international body with the authority or power to enforce them on unwilling nations. In fact many nations, including some of the world's leading nations, have not yet fully accepted them. A study by Wolf (1999) has shown that over one hundred agreements between nations who are riparian partners on international river/drainage basins have been reached, through negotiations, out of mutual interest and mutual benefits and gains rather than through the application or enforcement of international water law. Most of the effective international water treaties provide for the establishment of joint commissions and for a greater or lesser degree of data sharing, inspection, monitoring, control, and management of shared water resources so that all parties can be assured that the terms of the agreement are in fact being adh ered to.

While the Helsinki Rules had only a limited reference to ground water, the Bellagio Draft Treaty on Ground Water of 1989 (Haston and Utton, 1989), the Seoul Rules, the Geneva proposals (Bebreris, 1991) as well as the recently approve UN convention on international water, covers this area in a most specific manner so that today experts in international water law generally accept that all of the above principles apply equally to surface water and to ground water. This acceptance is less universal among the nations of the world, however.

If we are to accept the point of view of the experts in international water law we would come to the following conclusions: the position of some, that only by the physical occupation of territories which serve as a source of its water resources can a country assure its water rights is not generally supported by the normal practice of peaceful nations or international water law. If this were so Iraq and Syria would be justified in conquering Turkey to assure the continued flow of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, and Holland would have to occupy Germany to assure the flow of the Rhine River.

Similarly there is little legal basis in international water law for the claim of others that they have exclusive rights over the use of water derived from sources within their territory. If this were so, it would mean that Egypt, which receives the flow of the Nile River entirely from upstream countries, would have no rights to the water that it has used for thousands of years. On the other hand, the claim that prior historical use assures immutable water rights is also not absolute in terms of international water law. For example international water law would not support the Syrian claims that Turkey cannot carry out major water and irrigation projects for the welfare of its people with the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers which arise from within its borders as long as Syrian historical use of the water is not affected. There are many underdeveloped upstream countries who have developed and used only limited amounts of their own water resources in the past, such as Ethiopia, for example, with grow ing populations and serious food shortages, who are now entering periods of more rapid economic and social development. These nations will have urgent needs for a greater share of the water resources that arise within their territory. International water law does recognize the need to meet new human and social requirements for water on an existing international watershed. The Palestinians are to a great extent in just such a position.

Whether or not international law is actually binding at this time, the community of nations will undoubtedly expect that Israel and the Palestinians as well as Syria and Lebanon will negotiate a settlement based on the assumption that they share common international water resources and that an accommodation should be reached in the spirit of the principles of international law assuring that "Each basin state is entitled, within its territory, to a reasonable and equitable share in the beneficial uses of the waters on an international drainage basin."

Thus, based on modern principles of international water law, both the historic riparian rights of Israel as the downstream user and the rights of the Palestinians as the upstream party on a shared international body of water must be considered on the basis of equity and legitimate needs. Both parties to the conflict would be expected, in the first instance, to negotiate directly between themselves to arrive at a settlement based on the principles of "equitable apportionment" rather than to enter some type of confrontational litigation, expecting some supra-government authority to enforce a judgment based on what each side views as their legitimate rights.


An attempt shall be made to estimate the minimum legitimate baseline water needs of the parties required to ensure a reasonable minimum standard of living in a semi-arid area suffering from serious water shortages. I have defined this as the Minimum Water Requirement- MWR. I have held that the partners to the dispute will each require as a minimum degree of "water security"--so that they will have access to adequate and equitable allocations of good drinking quality water for domestic, municipal and industrial use. The basis I have proposed for estimating these quantities would be an equal amount per capita for both sides (Shuval, 1992).

Thus, I have suggested that a basic element in resolving the water disputes in the frame work of the final stage peace settlement with the Palestinians would be the recognition of principle of a sufficient, fair and equitable allocation of the essential MWR for domestic, urban, and industrial use. I proposed this concept at Israeli/Palestinians meetings as early as 1991 with the suggestion that the ultimate MWR allocation for domestic, urban, and industrial use for Israelis and Palestinian alike be about 125 cubic meters/person/year (CMIP/Yr) (Shuval, 1992). Some Israelis point out that the actual current Palestinian drinking water demand for domestic/urban is only about 35 CM/P/Yr and claim that this indicates that the Palestinians do not need as much water for domestic and urban use as the Israelis do. I have not accepted this position and base my estimates on the natural increase in domestic/urban water consumption among the Palestinians as socio-economic conditions improve and water supplies become more available to meet growing needs. It is correct and proper to assume that in time the Palestinian domestic/urban water demands will be the same as the Israeli present rates of use. Domestic/urban demand in Israeli cities that suffered from serious water shortages, such as Jerusalem, some 50 years ago have more than doubled over the years.

The MWR figure of 125 CM/P/Yr I have proposed is considered in Israel as an adequate minimum water allocation to support a good hygienic standard at the household level as well as sufficient water for a high level of urban/commercial/tourist and industrial development, if coupled with sound measures of water conservation (Braverman, 1994). This is in fact the amount of water used in the domestic/urban/industrial sector in Israel in 1998 and it is anticipated that with good household and urban water conservation this level can be maintained in the future. This allocation does not include any use of the limited resources of good quality drinking water for agriculture since almost all water of drinking water quality will be required within the next thirty years for domestic/ urban/commercial and industrial use. Water allocations for further agricultural development can become available from recycling and the reuse of purified municipal wastewater, which is estimated at 65 percent of the urban water supply. Furt her water needs beyond locally available sweet water sources will eventually have to be met by imported water and/or desalination of brackish water or sea-water in the framework internal Israeli and Palestinian water projects and/or a regional Water-for-Peace plan, as it develops.

In 1993, my Palestinian colleagues Dr. Karen Assaf and Ing. Nader AlKhatib together with Dr. Elisha Kally, the veteran Israeli water planner and I published this concept in a book with the goal of promoting our Water for Peace plan (Assaf, et al, 1992). Our concept of the MWR was not accepted at first and in fact generated considerable opposition both among Israelis and Palestinians. Meanwhile many Palestinians, some Israelis and key international authorities have adopted this concept and proposal as being a realistic and fair basis for estimating the ultimate basic human needs of the partners to the water disputes and as an equitable basis for sharing of the limited water of the area.

The official negotiating position of Israel remains that it has no intention of reducing its current rate of utilization of the waters of the Mountain Aquifer, which is based on prior historic use. However, it is important to note here, that the recently retired Israel Water Commissioner, Meyer Ben-Meir, who served both under Prime Minister Netanyahu and Prime Minister Barak has on more that one occasion, written in articles (Ben-Meir, 1994) and stated publicly in TV, radio and newspaper interviews both before and after the 1999 elections, that regardless of the final borders reached and the political nature of the settlement with the Palestinians, Israel must accept the fact that it shares the responsibility of supplying the drinking water/domestic and urban needs of the total population, including the Palestinians, between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea on an equitable basis-Palestinians the same as the Israelis. He often uses the figure of 100 CM/P/Yr as the basis for future total domestic/urban water supplies, By these statements, the highest water official in Israel has accepted in principle the fundamental concept that Israel has the moral responsibility to help supply the drinking water/domestic/urban needs of its Palestinian neighbors on an equitable basis with Israelis, regardless of the political solution reached between the Israelis and Palestinians.


The intensity of the water conflicts are particularly grave since the main partners to disputed waters -- Israel and the Palestinians -- face serious long-term water problems, particularly when considering the expected doubling of populations within the next thirty years or so. Jordan is in no better position. The three years of drought in 1989-199 1 and the even more severe drought in 1998-1999, which has threatened agricultural and economic development, made Jordan acutely aware of the critical nature of its limited water resources. The bountiful rains of the winter of 1992 have not changed the long-term mean water potential.

Based on the author's estimates from various sources (Naff and Matson, 1984; Salameh, 1990) but mainly from World Resources (1998) the available renewable fresh potable water resources for Israel and Jordan in the year 2000 (assuming a return to normal rainfall, expressed on a annual per capita basis, in what is often called the water stress index), will be about 270 and 200 cubic meters/person/year (CM/P/Yr) respectively, while only a mean of about 93 CM/P/Yr will be available to the Palestinians including those in Gaza. For purposes of comparison Figure 2 shows the annual fresh water availability per capita in cubic meter/person/year- CM/P/Yr for Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinians as well as for Turkey (World Water Resources, 1998).

The calculation of the above water stress index for the Palestinians is based on estimates of current water allocations provided by the Israel Civil Administration, the actual water use in Gaza and the potential untapped water reserves of the Eastern Aquifer of some 50MCM/Yr for a total of 260MCM/Yr and not on the Palestinian's own estimates of what they consider to be their legitimate water rights which include most of the water available from the mountain aquifer. Most of this disputed water is currently utilized by Israel from within Israel's borders. It is these very amounts of water which are the subject of the dispute.

Assuming an anticipated immigration resulting from in-gathering of Diaspora populations for both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, each within their own borders, and natural population growth, it can estimated that there will be at least a doubling of the population within a thirty year period. This will mean that the limitations on water resources will become even more severe. It is possible to make a rough estimate of the water stress index for the year 2030 by assuming a doubling of the population in each of the countries which will result in a reduction to one half of the current level of the water available per person. -- that is unless additional water resources are added to the area by then. The situation of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza would according to these estimates be most difficult. If the per capita water resources potential of the Palestinians today are 93CMIP/Yr, with a doubling of the population and no increase in water they would drop to a unacceptable low of less about 4 7 CM/P/Yr in 2030.


As shown previously, Israel has a strong legal case of historical riparian rights concerning its use for some 60-80 years of most of the ground water in the Western Mountain Aquifer (the Yarkon-Taninim) and the North-Eastern Aquifer (Schem- Gilboa) which flow naturally into its territory. Israel considers this water vital for its own survival and the Israeli official position is that it will not agree to any unilateral reduction in its current use of those aquifers. This will mean that in general the Palestinians in the West Bank will not be able to meet their own needs for water from internal sources alone, unless they can reach an agreement on importation or larger allocations from the shared aquifers.

Without questioning Israel's legal position as to their claims to that portion of the mountain aquifer that it has used historically, it will undoubtedly be asked to consider the possibility of negotiating an agreement on the shared use of that aquifer with the Palestinians including increasing their allocation of the shared waters in order to reach an accommodation in the framework of the final peace agreement. Exactly how much of an increase in the Palestinians share will be agreed upon is beyond the scope of this paper but I have pointed out my estimate of the Palestinian's minimum human needs for drinking water and essential fresh water for domestic/urban/commercial and industrial use.

It must also be pointed out that it is estimated that there will most likely be a reduction in the amount of drinking quality water available to Israel by some 200-300 MCM/Yr over the next fifteen to twenty years as a result of the ongoing ground water pollution processes from anthroprogenic and natural sources affecting mainly the coastal aquifer and to some extent the Mountain Aquifer from sources within Israel as well as those in the West Bank. The concentration of ground water salinity and nitrates has been increasing at the rate of 1-2 mg/l for many years now. Within 30 years a significant number of the wells currently supply drinking water or water for agriculture will no longer be of be able to supply water of an acceptable quality standard. The salinity increase is partially from sea-water intrusion, fallout/washout from marine aerosols, from underground saline springs and partially from the percolation of irrigation return flows which are always considerably higher in dissolved salt concentration th an the initial irrigation water. The plants take up the irrigation water through membranes, which reject excess concentrations of salts, which then percolate into the ground water. The nitrate increases are mainly the result of the use of chemical fertilizers in agriculture, infiltration of animal wastes from barns and chicken coops, infiltration of wastewater from septic tanks, wastewater irrigation and seepage from solid waste dumps. In addition, Israel's fresh water reserves may be further reduced in the framework of peace agreements with Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. If these estimates are correct, then the amount of drinking quality water that will be available to Israel over the period of the next 30 years will just about be enough to meet Israel's own needs for its minimum water requirement (MWR) with only a small amount available to help meet the needs of the Palestinians.

In mentioning the possible need for reallocations of water to other neighbors of Israel in the framework of peace agreements with them, I am not implying that these countries should have priority over the needs of the Palestinians who, without question, suffer from the most severe water shortages of all the countries with whom Israel is interested in reaching peace agreements. However, it is important to mention at this stage that the Palestinians will not be the only nation requesting a greater share of Israel's limited water resources and Israel must take all of these potential demands into account.

It is also important to understand the deep ideological commitment of Israel to preserve at least some of its agricultural base as an essential part of its heritage and national goal of "the return to the soil" in its ancient homeland. It is no more logical to expect Israel completely to give up its deep national commitment and support for agriculture than it is to propose such a move to the Swiss, French, Americans, Egyptians or Palestinians which are nations with equally deep commitments to their agricultural heritage. However, the Palestinians will also have to. accept the serious limitations on their agricultural potential based on the limited availability of water resources and their high cost. Even if Israel agrees to allow the Palestinians to pump a greater share of the Mountain Aquifer from wells within the West Bank such water will most likely be too expensive for any agricultural use. However, they cannot be expected to completely forgo the agriculture base, which has been a deep-rooted part of the Arab economy and tradition. Nevertheless with increasing populations Israel will undoubtedly have to reduce severely its allocations of fresh water supplies for agricultural purposes and will have to decrease it's subsidies for agricultural water so as to assure its rational use, mainly to meet the needs of the domestic, urban, commercial and industrial sectors. The Palestinians will, in the long run, have little alternative but to do the same and reallocate good quality drinking water from the agricultural sector to the domestic/urban sector. It may be more difficult for them since most if not all of the water used by the Palestinian farmers is privately owned, while in Israel all water is owned by the state. Possibly some form of a water market mechanism could be created where by water can be sold to the highest bidder, which undoubtedly will be the Palestinian urban consumers.

It is expected that neither side will agree to restrict immigration and the return of their respective Diaspora's within their areas, as a water conservation measure. Both sides have deep commitments on this matter and would view any restrictions on immigration as an unacceptable constraint.

As shown in Figure 2, the water stress index indicates that Lebanon and Syria are estimated to have, in the year 2000, about 1000 CM/P/Yr each, while Turkey has some 3000 CM/P/Yr. Thus, Syria and Lebanon each have almost four times the amount of replenishable water resources per person/year as Israel, some ten times that of the Palestinians and 5 times as much per capita as Jordan. Thus, these two countries can be considered to be relatively water rich countries in Middle Eastern terms, compared to their down-stream neighbors on the Jordan River Basin, the Palestinians, Jordanians, and Israelis.

Since Syria and Lebanon are true riparian partners with the Palestinians, Jordanians, and the Israelis, on the shared waters of the international Jordan River Basin, I suggest that it is not unreasonable to expect that they too should be considered as potential candidates in assisting their less fortunate downstream neighbors, particularly the Palestinians, in the solution of their severe water shortages. The fundamental principle of international water law of equitable sharing applies no less to Syria and Lebanon than it does to the other three riparians. This would be in the spirit of the Helsinki Rules and the UN decision, which accepted the proposals of the International Law Commission.

Turkey is not a formal riparian on the Jordan River Basin but is the most water rich country in the Middle East with over 10 times as much as the Israelis and 30 times that of the Palestinians on a per capita basis. Since Turkey is contiguous to Syria and Lebanon, two of the Jordan River Basin riparians and shares with them other international waters (the Orontes and TigrIs Rivers) they might well be able to play an important role in helping to alleviate the severe water shortages faced by the nations in their immediate area.


Since it is difficult if not impossible to plan for all future developments and population growth, it is suggested that the estimated MWR requirements for a 15 year period serve as the basis for reaching an agreement on firm water allocations in the final stage agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. There most likely will not be enough fresh drinking quality water to meet the needs of the Israelis and Palestinians together much beyond the next 15 years without major supplemental sources such as import of water or desalination of seawater. Estimates of the water needs for the second stage of 30 years is in any event difficult if not impossible to make at this time. Israel will almost certainly need to find external sources of additional drinking water within the next 15-30 years. It will most likely resort to desalination of seawater to meet the increased domestic/urban water demands resulting from its own population growth. Thus, any long term estimates of water needs and plans to meet those needs be yond the 15-year period should be based on a framework agreement of regional cooperation to develop additional water resources to meet the future needs of all the partners.

As an illustration, it can be assumed that the estimated populations in about 15 years (the year 2015) and 30 years (2030) will be as follows: Israel, 8 and 10 million and the Palestinians, 3.5 and 5 million. The true populations may be greater or smaller than these estimated figures depending on many demographic and political factors which are difficult to determine at this stage. These figures are presented as one possible scenario. Based on these assumed populations the suggested requirements of domestic/urban water-the MWR at 125 CMIP/Yr to assure water security--are as shown in Table lA and lB.

From this it can be seen that over the next 15 years the Palestinians will be short some 180 MCM/Yr to meet their essential minimum water requirements- (MWR). Without going into detail it is not unreasonable to estimate that a small part of the above missing quantities of essential water supply required up to the year 2015, which will be needed to meet the Palestinians MWR, can be developed by the Palestinians themselves from sources in the Eastern Aquifer which are available to them according to the Oslo B agreement.

The true untapped mean safe yield of the Eastern Aquifer has not been determined and estimates vary between 50-100 MCM/Yr. However, we have already assumed that at least a minimum of some 50 MCM/Yr of water can be extracted by the Palestinians from that source and have included that in the estimate of the current Palestinian potential. How much additional water might be extractable from that source is still unknown, but for the purpose of this estimate we have assumed an additional 30 MCM/Yr will be available. This still leaves the Palestinians short of about 150 MCM/Yr up to the year 2015.

In my personal opinion, it is not unreasonable to expect that part of the increased allocation of water to the Palestinians will include the disputed 50 MCM/Yr of water that Israel currently pumps from wells it dug in West Bank areas, mainly in the Eastern Aquifer, after the occupation in 1967. Israel would be hard pressed to claim prior historic use as a basis for continuing the use of this water, as it does in connection with the waters of the Western and North Eastern Aquifers which flow into Israel and have been utilized by Jewish farmers and Israel for up to 80 years.

The remaining 100 MCM/Yr needed by the Palestinians for drinking water over the next 15 years might be supplied by Israel in incremental stages over that period as populations grow, through a reallocation to the Palestinians of a portion of the water from the Western or North Eastern Aquifers currently used by Israel. Part might be made available by allowing the Palestinians access to the flow of the lower Jordan River for use by Palestinians in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley. Such allocations can help meet the urgent MWR requirements of the Palestinians for the next 15 years or possibly longer. This is only an example of one possible formulation of an accommodation between Israel and Palestine but it could well serve as basis for discussion for an equitable foundation for a final status peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Neither side will be happy with such a reallocation of water. Some Israelis may see such reallocation as a threat to Israel's agriculture and water security. The Pale stinian may well feel that it is not up to their expectations. However considering the constraints of the limited water resources in the shared pool which are not really enough to meet all the long term needs of either partner, such a division may well be the most equitable division that is feasible. In the event that such an agreement is included in the final phase agreement it will certainly give the Palestinians a respite of at least 15 years, probably more, with a significant increase in water resources to meet urgent growing needs. It will also provide sufficient time to work on plans to develop additional water resources, which will be eventually, be needed in any case.

After the year 2015 other water sources must be found elsewhere since Israel itself will be facing a situation where within some 15-20 years it will not be able to meet its own minimum water requirements without resorting to desalination. Here I propose that the countries with richer water sources further to the north come into the picture. I am assuming that in the not too distant future Israel will reach a peace agreement with Syria and Lebanon which may well include some reallocation of Jordan River/Golan Heights water currently used by Israel to them. If this amount of water is based on the so-called Johnston Plan of 1956, then Israel may have to reallocate some 80 MCM/Yr of water to Syria and Lebanon.

I would propose that in the negotiations between Israel, Syria, and Lebanon, Israel or preferably a third party mediator/facilitator, such as the United States propose that Syria and Lebanon contribute a fair and equitable share of the flow of the Jordan/Yarmuk Rivers and/or possibly the Litani and Awali Rivers to the most severely water short riparian partner on the Jordan River basin-the Palestinians. I suggest that an allocation of some 150-200 MCM/Yr from Syria and Lebanon be transferred to the Palestinians on the West Bank of the Jordan Valley by the revival of the original Western Ghor Canal project which was in the advanced planning stage by Jordan just prior to the 1967 war. Is it unreasonable to expect that Jordan should cooperate in meeting part of the Palestinians basic needs in the West Bank by agreeing to construct, within Jordan, the Western Ghor Canal from the Yarmuk, siphoned under the Jordan River to West side the Jordan Valley for use by the Palestinians in the West Bank? This project was c alled for in their own water plan and in the Johnston plan of 1956. The source of water could be from the planned Syrian/Jordanian Unity Dam on the Yarmuk or other external sources such as the Litani and Awali Rivers in Lebanon.

Thus with the participation of Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan in fulfilling the Helsinki/UN International Law Commission principles of equitable sharing to meet human and social needs, it will hopefully be possible to meet most if not all of the Palestinian's most urgent human needs for drinking/domestic/urban water supplies for the foreseeable future- that is the next 30 years.

This would mean that additional water for all other uses, including agriculture for local markets or for export from local sources of fresh water, would have to be severely restricted by both partners. This also means that both Israel and the Palestinians would themselves have to give priority in reallocation of existing fresh water resources, available to them, to meeting the growing demands for drinking water and domestic/urban requirements as populations double over the next thirty years. The declaration of some Palestinian leaders that it is their intended policy to increase water allocations to agriculture is unrealistic under the present conditions of extreme water scarcity where both for the Israelis and the Palestinians there will barely be enough water to meet the growing domestic and urban demands. Another, no less important, reason why such a vision of increased Palestinian agriculture is unrealistic will be the high cost of water, which makes it unfeasible for any agricultural use.


In addition to meeting these minimum human needs there may be some place to develop additional regional water projects which can be economically justified and, which can be of benefit to all five riparians on the Jordan River Basin: the Syrians, Lebanese, Jordanians, Palestinians, and Israelis. Such projects might include, the sale of water from the Awali and Litani Rivers in Lebanon to all or some of the downstream riparian for a limited period of time-- say thirty years, which would be the normal life of such an engineering project. Studies have shown that such a project is relatively low in cost and highly feasible from an engineering point of view (Kally, 1993). Of course it could only be carried out in an era of peaceful cooperation between all of the riparians on the Jordan River Basin.

Another project worth evaluating would be the Turkish proposal to build the "Peace Pipeline" or in this case called the "Mini-Peace Pipeline" from Turkey to supply water to all five Jordan River Riparians or part of them. This project which might transport as much as 1,000 MCM/Yr or more to the south is most complex from an engineering and geopolitical point of view, since it would involving building a very big pipeline several hundred km in length that would have to cross the borders of several countries. It may well be as expensive as sea water desalination, if not more so (Kally, 1993).

An innovative alternative concept, which is less complex from a geopolitical and engineering point of view, was proposed by our joint Israeli/Palestinian team in 1993 (Assaf, et al., 1993). This concept calls for an agreement between Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and the Palestinians, mainly with the goal of assisting the Palestinians. It would include an increased allocation of water from Turkey to Syria through the normal streambed of the Tigris River, which will not involve any new pipelines. In return, as part of the agreement, Syria would then increase its allocation of flow to Jordan through the Yarmuk River, which would be diverted to the Abdullah Canal in Jordan on the eastern side of the Jordan Valley. Jordan would then allow the construction of the Western Ghor Canal, with the help of international funding, which would siphon water from the Abdullah Canal under the Jordan River for the use of the Palestinians on the West Bank. Along the route Syria and Jordan would also benefit from increased water alloca tions. This innovative concept involves a minimum of engineering works and new pipelines and requires no new transboundary pipelines other than the Western Ghor Canal. The total cost would be minimal. However, this project too, is only conceivable in the framework of a peace agreement between all the riparians on the Jordan River Basin including Israel. It would also require Turkey and Syria to reach an accommodation on their long-standing differences on the utilization of the Tigris River. Turkey, of course, would be paid by all the beneficiaries for the additional water it releases to the Tigris.

Another attractive alternative is building an under-sea pipeline in the Mediterranean sea from Turkey, in international waters near the coastline, which could deliver water to Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and to the Palestinians, as well as to northern Cyprus, is actually currently under active consideration. The alternative of transporting water from Turkey by sea in large floating plastic bags called "Medusas" or in large relined former oil tankers is also being considered. The economic and engineering feasibility of these projects is yet to be determined.

At some stage major local and/or regional desalination plants will also come under active consideration. However, even if the price of desalination is reduced to as little as 60 or 70 US cents/[m.sup.3] its use will still only be economically feasible for domestic/urban/commercial/tourism and industrial use. No agriculture crops could afford to pay such a high price for water. Beaumont (1999) has estimated that the economic return, in the Middle East, from use of one cubic meter of water in agriculture is at most about US $0.50-1.00/[m.sup.3] while the return on the use of water in the urban sector for commerce, tourism and industry is any where between $100 to $1000/[m.sup.3]. Thus only desalination to serve the needs of the urban/commercial/industrial sector would ever be justified.

An additional possible format for future regional cooperation could be an "inter-country water market" through which water could be bought and sold between countries like any other commodity or natural resources such as oil, coal or gas. Such a water market might become feasible eventually in an era of stable peace and mutual trust among all five riparians of the Jordan River Basin. However, it would be particularly attractive and beneficial, even essential, for Israel and the Palestinians. The Harvard Middle East Water Project, in which I participated in it's early developmental stages, has reached the preliminary conclusion that intra and inter-country water markets between Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians would be economically beneficial to all partners (Fisher, 1996; Shuval, 1995).

Another tentative conclusion of great interest, which has come out of the economic/ market analysis of the water dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, is that the monetary value of the water in dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, based on the estimated current value of water to Israel of about $0.20/[m.sup.3] is about 20-40 million dollars per year. This means that if Israel reallocated some 100-200 MCM/Yr of the water it currently uses to meet the Palestine MWR it would cost the Israeli economy that sum of money. According to Fisher when you examine the water dispute in such monetary terms it appears to be small and that "a dispute over such a sum can be settled by negotiations rather than war." An annual expenditure even of a sum as large as 40 million dollars would only be about 0.05 percent of the Israel GDP of 80 billion dollars in 1999 and could not be considered an impossible economic burden on the economy. It would only be a small part of the total price of a final stage peace agreeme nt with the Palestinians which will probably involve heavy multi-billion dollar expenditures in moving military installations, roads, fences, border crossings, and most probably the compensation, with additional billions of dollars, required for the resettlement of tens of thousands of settlers. The economic cost of a generous accommodation in the water field may appear to be somewhat smaller and less of an obstacle to peace when it is compared to these other elements of the price of peace. In any event, water must now be looked at as a totally replaceable commodity available in unlimited quantities at the price of desalination of sea-water which apparently will reach a price as low as $0.500.60/[m.sup.3] or less in the coming years.

There is a need to develop a bold regional Water-for-Peace plan This plan should be based on economic feasibility as well as the principle of sufficient and equitable allocations for all, which can bring in quantities of additional water to all the countries of the region from the large water resources reserves available for many years to come in countries such as Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and possibly Egypt and/or by the construction of major sea-water desalination plants (Shuval, 1992) It will be much more feasible for the Israelis and Palestinians to reach an accommodation, painful as it may be, based on feasible but equitable allocations if there is an assurance by the major powers of the world that the size of the pie will eventually be increased and that neither side will be left without sufficient water to assure its future development within the framework of their own national goals which include a limited but economically feasible agricultural base.


In the peace negotiation process on the question of the shared water resources in the Middle East, including the Mountain Aquifer, the partners to the dispute will have to give serious consideration to ways of applying the principles of the Helsinki Rules and the UN International Law Commission including an agreed upon formula for equitable apportionment and eventual joint monitoring, inspection, and control on both sides of the border. It is essential to assure all partners that the water allocations, from surface and ground water sources, agreed upon, are being abided by.

Both the Israelis and the Palestinians will have to accept and learn to live with joint inspection teams verifying that the terms of the agreement are being fulfilled on both sides of the border. There must be ways of assuring both sides that neither partner to the agreement is pumping more water from the shared aquifer than agreed upon or that either side is causing pollution of the ground or surface water that may effect the quality of the common pool of water serving both peoples. There must also be arrangements for the joint management and operation of any water import facilities agreed upon and joint desalination plants if any are constructed. No less important is to assure that there is proper control of potential and actual sources of environmental pollution, which might threaten the quality of the shared water resources. This will require a recognition of the reality that the use and management of a shared resource for mutual benefit, such as water, means that both sides must accept a certain degree of limitation on their territorial sovereignty.

Accepting a degree of limitation on territorial sovereignty may well be a bitter pill to swallow for the parties to the dispute in the Middle East, but it is not hard to find examples where powerful sovereign nations have accepted that principle in treaties, in order to end conflicts and protect their mutual interests in shared water resources. This is particularly so in Europe among the countries belonging to the EU. An outstanding example of international cooperation is the joint management of the Rhine River which started in 1815 and today has evolved into the ten nation International Rhine Commission (IRC) which regulates and controls chemical, microbial and thermal pollution, fishing, flood control, navigation and water use. The IRC carries out joint monitoring, inspection, control and research on all aspects of the river's management. These countries have agreed to a certain degree of limitation of their territorial sovereignty in order to achieve shared goals of orderly management and pollution contro l of shared international bodies of water (Van de Kliej, 1993).

An essential element of the agreement is that the legitimate water rights of the Palestinians and Israelis to a fair portion of the shared Mountain Aquifer be recognized and regularized. Another important section of the treaty should be an agreed upon procedure for resolving differences that arise out of the agreement by such procedures as direct negotiations, facilitation or mediation. In the case that those steps do not achieve a resolution of the disagreement they might be followed by binding arbitration by an agreed upon procedure or adjudication before the World Court.


While providing a solution to the water conflicts in the Palestinian-Israel dispute, including that over the Mountain Aquifer, is not a sufficient condition for peace it is undoubtedly a necessary condition. A bold and generous internationally sponsored Water-For-Peace Plan can provide the framework of encouragement and optimism that can motivate the partners to reach an accommodation based on compromise, even a painful one, not frilly meeting the expectations or hopes of either side. This will be necessary in light of the limited water resources available in the shared water pool for any kind reallocation. However the assurance that there will also be outside assistance to increase the size of the pie for the benefit of all will help the sides reach an agreement. In this way it will not only be possible to remove an important obstacle on the path to peace but provides a real motivation for peace which will enable the partners to the dispute to solve urgent problems for the social welfare and economic benefi t of all.

It is beyond the scope of this paper to suggest the outcome of the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians concerning the water issues, which are often laden with deep emotions and misunderstandings on both sides. I certainly do not claim to represent the official Israeli position on this question. However, I can state my own considered opinion, which is, that it is in Israel's national and security interest to see to it that the Palestinians are assured sufficient water supplies to meet their basic human and social needs. This can be done by a generous gesture by Israel which would reallocate certain amounts of vital water needed desperately by Palestinians but will not be a significant burden on the Israel economy or endanger Israel's own water security. It is in Israel's interest that the Palestinians have enough water, not only so that they can survive, but so that they can thrive economically and socially and live in peace and economic prosperity with their Israeli neighbors, with a sense that a fair and just peace agreement has been reached.

Hillel I. Shuval is the Kunin-Lunenfeld Professor of Environmental Science, Division of Environmental Sciences, Freddy and Nadine Herrmann School of Applied Science and Technology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


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Author:Shuval, Hillel I.
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Mar 22, 2000

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