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THE CURRENT PEACE PROCESS offers a special opportunity for all the nations in the Middle East to abandon the existing status of belligerency, confrontation, non-cooperation, and polarization. The ultimate objective is to arrive at a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the whole region under which all the peoples of the area can together develop the area and promote progress and prosperity. Water is a major issue that can catalyze the peace process or inhibit it. After more than five years of meetings and negotiations, the gap in the positions among regional parities is still as wide as ever. The region's hydrologists and politicians are still talking on different wavelengths. This article will focus on the Israeli-Palestinian water disputes in the groundwater aquifers and Jordan River. We realize that water is a particularly sensitive and critical issue for all parties to the conflicts. But we also believe that finding a common understanding of water issues in the Middle East would go far to enhance the possibilities of achieving stability in the region. Conversely, failure to reach these common grounds will, most definitely, obstruct any efforts to attain this goal. There is no alternative to an honest and forthright discussion of the water issues and to exposing the current unsustainable reality of mismanagement, inequities, and the outright denial of the Palestinian's inalienable right to their resources.


Water does not recognize political boundaries and, as such, it is difficult to delineate Israeli and Palestinian surface and ground water resources. Nevertheless, we outline here the water resources in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as those in Israel.

Surface Water

Surface water is that which flows permanently in the form of rivers and wadis or that which is held in seasonal reservoirs. The Jordan River is the only permanent river which can be used as a source of surface water in Palestine. The Jordan River is 360 kms long with a surface catchment area of which 18,300 [km.sup.2] lie upstream of the Lake Tiberias outlet. The average annual flow of this river is about 1311 MCM (Haddad, 1997). The Jordan River initiates from three main springs: The Hasbani in Lebanon, the Dan in occupied Palestine, and the Banias in the Syrian Golan Heights to form the Upper Jordan river basin. The water of this basin flows southward through Lake Hula towards Lake Tiberias. In the absence of irrigation extraction, the Jordan River system would be capable of delivering an average annual flow of 1,850 MCM to the Dead Sea. The riparians of the Jordan River are Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Jordan. Only three percent of the Jordan River's basin fall within Israel's pre-1967 boundaries.

Average precipitation for Upper Jordan and Lake Tiberias averages 1,600 mm and 800 mm respectively. The lower basin, around the Dead Sea has a desert climate characterized by scarce rainfall. The Jordan River is progressively more saline and less usable towards the Dead Sea. The Jordan River system satisfies about 50% of Israel's and Jordan's water demand; Lebanon and Syria are minor users, meeting 5% of their re-combined demands via the Jordan.

Downstream of Tiberias is the Lower Jordan river basin, which joins the Yarmouk and the Zerka Rivers originating from Syria and Jordan in the east. The outlet of this basin is toward the Dead Sea in the south. As a result of water diversion from the upper Jordan by the Israel, there is no fresh water to flow downstream of Tiberias. In normal years Israel allows a flow downstream from Lake Tiberias of just 60 MCM of water basically consisting of saline springs which previously used to feed the lake, and sewage water. These are then joined by what is left of the Yarmouk, by some irrigation return flows, and by winter runoff, adding up to a total of 200-300 MCM. Both in quantity and quality this water is unsuitable for irrigation and does not sufficiently supply natural systems (www.fsk.ethz.chlencop/l3/en13-cho.htm).

Flood Water Flow

Surface flood runoff in the West Bank is mostly intermittent and probably occurs when the rainfall exceeds 50 mm in one day or 70 mm on two consecutive days. The runoff is estimated at about 64 MCM/yr in the West Bank (A1-Khatib, 1989; Abu Mayleh, 1991.) Streams flowing from the west towards the Jordan Valley recharge shallow aquifers such as Wadi al-Qilt, Auja and Wadi al-Far'a (Assaf, 1991). The flood wadis can be divided according to the flood flow direction as follows:

1. The eastern and northeastern flood wadis that have an average total annual flood flow volume of about 18.57 MCM/yr.

2. The western flood wadis that have an average total annual flood flow volume of about 17.91 MCM/yr.

In addition, there are small-scale wadis that discharge a total flood water volume that may reach 15 MCM/yr during the very wet seasons.

In the Gaza Strip, runoff water is collected in small wadis and valleys within the area. Wadi Gaza is the most important. It drains 3,500 [km.sup.2] of the northern Negev. The northeastern part of the Gaza Strip, with loessial and alluvial soils, also contains some wadis. These soils have a low infiltration capacity; therefore, there are many surface run-offs during intensive rainfall.

West Bank Aquifer Systems

Groundwater is the major source of fresh water supply in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the West Bank, the aquifer system is comprised of several rock formations from the Lower Cretaceous to the Holocene geologic age. Most of the formations are comprised of carbonate rocks (mainly limestone, dolomite, chalk, marl, and clay). The aquifer system is recharged from rainfall in the West Bank. The main recharge areas are along the upper mountain slopes and ridges. The annual rainfall in the West Bank is estimated at 3,000 MCM (Abu Mayleh, 1994). Around 600-650 MCM of this rainfall is estimated to infiltrate the soil to replenish the aquifers annually. Figure 1 shows the distribution of groundwater basins and aquifers in the West Bank, which can be divided into three main groundwater basins, each of which can be subdivided into subbasins. There are two general directions for the groundwater of the West Bank Aquifer system, east and west. The groundwater basins are recharged directly from rainfall on the outcroppi ng geologic formations in the West Bank mountains (forming the phreatic portion), while the greatest part of the storage areas is located in the confined portions. The phreatic portions constitute the subsurface area under the West Bank mountains where the Palestinians dug their groundwater wells to tap the shallow unconfined aquifers. The Israelis, however, dug their wells to tap the confined aquifers whose quality and quantity are better.

The West Bank aquifer system is classified according to flow direction into:

1. The Western Aquifer System, which is the largest, has a safe yield of 360 MCM per year (of which 40 MCM brackish). Eighty percent of the recharge area of this basin is located within the West Bank boundaries, whereas 80 percent of the storage area is located within Israeli borders. Groundwater flow is towards the coastal plain in the west, making this a shared basin between Israelis and Palestinians. The groundwater being mainly of good quality, this source is largely used for municipal supply. Israelis exploit the aquifers of this basin through 300 deep groundwater wells to the west of the Green Line, as well as through Mekorot (the Israeli water company) deep wells within the West Bank boundary. Palestinians, on the other hand, consume only about 7.5 percent of its safe yield. They extract their water from 138 groundwater wells tapping the Western Aquifer System (120 for irrigation and 18 for domestic use) in Qalqilya, Tulkarm, and West Nablus. There are 35 springs with an average flow discharge exceedin g 0.1 L/s located in this aquifer system.

2. The Northeastern Aquifer System has an annual safe yield of 140 MCM (of which 70 MCM brackish). Palestinians consume only about 18% of the safe yield of their aquifers in the Jenin district and East Nablus (Wadi Al Far'a, Wadi El Bathan, as well as Aqrabaniya and Nassariya) for both irrigation and domestic purposes. There are 86 Palestinian wells in this aquifer system (78 for irrigation and 8 for domestic use). The general groundwater flow is towards the Bisan natural springs in the north and northeast.

3. The Eastern Aquifer System has a safe yield of 100-150 MCM per year (of which 70 MCM brackish). It lies entirely within the West Bank territory and was used exclusively by Palestinian villagers and farmers until 1967. After 1967 Israel expanded its control over this aquifer and began to tap it, mainly to supply Israeli settlements implanted in the area. The most important springs in the West Bank are in this basin. Seventy-nine springs with an average discharge greater than 0.1 L/s provide 90 percent of the total annual spring discharge in the West Bank. There are 122 Palestinian groundwater wells in this aquifer system (109 for irrigation and 13 for domestic use).

Gaza Coastal Aquifer

The main Gaza Aquifer is a continuation of the shallow sandy/sandstone coastal aquifer of Israel (shared aquifer) which is of the Pliocene-Pleistocene geological age. About 2200 wells tap this aquifer with depths mostly ranging between 25 and 30 meters. Its annual safe yield is 55 MCM (GTZ, 1998), but the aquifer has been over-pumped at the rate of 110 MCM resulting in a lowering of the groundwater table below sea level and saline water intrusion in many areas. The main sources of salinity are deep saline water intrusion from deeper saline strata, sea water intrusion, and return flows from very intensive irrigation activities.

Another water resource within the area is the Sea of Galilee; much of its water and its surface water is delivered directly to the population of settlements in the vicinity via the National Water Carrier. Some additional relatively smaller aquifers are found in the Western Galilee, in the Golan, in the northern valleys, in the Jordan Basins and in the Arava desert. Table 1 shows the available water resources in mandate Palestine.

Water Quality

As discussed earlier, Palestinian's share in the River's water cannot be used because they have no access to the Jordan River due to military closure by the Israelis since 1967. Different riparians took their needs from the Jordan River basin and the small quantity that can reach the Palestinian riparian in the West Bank is of poor quality. The salinity of the lower Jordan River reaches up to 5,000 parts per million (ppm). This deterioration is due to the over-exploitation of the shallow aquifer tapped by wells, scarcity of rainfall and irrigation return flow. The deep Israeli wells in the Jordan Valley have good water quality since they tap the Lower Cenomanian aquifer system. The Israelis are currently consuming 40 MCM/yr. (Oslo II, 1995) of water from their deep groundwater wells in the Jordan Valley.

The water quality from the West Bank aquifers is quite good except in certain areas in the Eastern aquifer. However, most of the water extracted from the Gaza aquifers is of poor quality due to high salinity (reaching 1500 ppm in some cases) and the high level of nitrates (reaching more than 350 mg/l) that falls below health standards set by the World Health Organization. However, there are a limited number of water lenses under Gaza, which are of fresh water quality. These lenses are situated around the Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip and thus are not accessible to the Palestinians even after Autonomy. Over-pumping of the Gaza aquifers has resulted in seawater intrusion and high salinity levels. In southern Gaza, groundwater salinity has been rising by 20 mg/l/year, and the water table has been declining by about 0.2 m per year (PEPA and Euroconsult/Iwaco, 1995). Chemically contaminated water runoff seeping into aquifers has also resulted in high nitrate levels.

Roots of the Water Conflict

To devise a solution to the water conflict, it is extremely important to look at its roots, which go back to the end of the past century when the Zionist movement initiated its plans for creating a Jewish homeland. In 1875, it was proposed that such a homeland should encompass Palestine, the Negev and parts of Jordan, with the water resources so that it could absorb 15 million Jews. After the declaration of the British mandate in 1922, the Jewish Agency formed a special technical committee to conduct studies of the utilization of water and irrigation of unarable and desert land. Most of the studies conducted were used to evaluate water plans designed by both the Jewish Agency and the United Nations Partition Plan of Palestine. The Arabs found it imperative to protect their water resources and, thus, began to design their own plans. Rising political tension in the region and the lack of a solution acceptable to all parties exacerbated the situation, which eventually exploded into several rounds of wars.

Two important water-related events characterize the British mandate period from 1922 to 1948, namely the Rutenberg Concession and the lonides Plan. In 1926, the British High Commissioner granted the Jewish-owned Palestine Electricity Corporation, founded by Pinhas Rutenberg, a 70-year concession to utilize the water of the Jordan and Yarmouk Rivers to generate electricity. The concession denied Arab farmers the right to use the water of the Yarmouk and Jordan Rivers upstream of their junction for any reason whatsoever, unless permission was granted by the Palestine Electricity Corporation. In 1937, the government of Great Britain assigned M. lonides, a hydrologist, to serve as the Director of Development for the East Jordan Government. His actual task was to conduct a study of the water resources and irrigation potentials of the Jordan Valley Basin. This study served as the main reference in the preparation of the proposed United Nationals Partition Plan of Palestine Published in 1939, the lonides Plan made three recommendations. Firstly, the Yarmouk flood waters were to be stored in Lake Tiberias. Secondly, the stored waters in Lake Tiberias, plus a block quote quantity of 1.76 CM/s of the Yarmouk River water diverted through the East Ghor canal, were to be used to irrigate 300,000 dunums of land east of the Jordan River. Finally, the secured irrigation water of the Jordan River system, estimated at a potential of 742 MCM, was to be used primarily within the Jordan Valley Basin. The Jewish agency was not satisfied with the findings or recommendations of Ionides.

Following the 1948 war, Israel launched a Seven Year Plan aimed at diverting the Jordan River water south toward the Negev desert. In September 1953, the construction of the National Water Carrier began. The diversion originated at the Banat Yacoub Bridge in the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria. After Arab objections to the excavation process, a temporary freeze on the work was announced and the United Sates presented another plan in another attempt to solve the region's water dispute. The Johnston plan, which was prepared under the supervision of the Tennessee Valley Authority, included water distribution quotas for the Jordan Valley Basin, estimated at 1287 MCM annually, among the riparian states as show in Table 2.

The period between October 1953 and July 1955 was a stage of negotiating and bargaining over the allocation of the Jordan River waters. By the end of 1955, the Johnston Plan had become more favorable to Israel, whose share rose to 450 MCM, while Jordan's share dropped to 720 MCM. The failure to reach a regional agreement reinforced each country's allocation to proceed independently. In 1958, Israel reinitiated the National Water Carrier project but with some technical changes; also, the Seven-year Plan was replaced by a ten-year Plan. Arab reaction to Israel's National Water Carrier was to build dams on tributaries of the Jordan and Yarmouk Rivers, thus reducing the water flow to Israel. In 1965, Syria began building dams to divert water from the Banias and Dan Rivers in the Golan Heights. Israel sent its fighter planes to destroy the work sites. No regional water plans were devised after the Johnston Plan of 1954, which allocated the water between the riparians based on the irrigable areas within the waters hed line. A West Ghor canal was included in the plan to provide Palestinians with Jordan River water that translated into 250 MCM per year. This project was never implemented. Following the 1967 war, Israel secured control over the headwaters of the Jordan River. Before 1967, the Palestinians had 720 groundwater wells for agricultural and domestic purposes. Soon after the occupation, Israel imposed a number of military orders to control Palestinian water resources. On August 15, 1967, the Israeli military commander issued Order No. 92, in which water was considered as a strategic resource. This order was followed by numerous other orders aimed at making basic changes in the water laws and regulations in force in the West Bank. Under Military Order No. 158 of 1967, it was not permissible for any person to set up or to assemble or to possess or to operate a water installation unless s license had been obtained from the area commander. This order continues to apply to allow wells and irrigation installations. Th e area commander can refuse to grant any license without the need for justification. These orders were followed by numerous military orders -- No. 291, No. 457 or 9172, 484 of 1972, 494 of 1972, 715 of 1977 and 1376 of 1991-to achieve complete control over Palestinian water resources. Immediately after the end of the war, Israel destroyed 140 Palestinian water pumps in the Jordan Valley and made it difficult to obtain permits for new wells. Despite the rapid increase in population and demand on water, Israel, since 1967, has granted Palestinians of the West Bank only five permits for new water wells. All were to be used exclusively for domestic purposes. New water wells for agricultural purposes in the West Bank were also restructured to three permits.


Israel has restricted Palestinian water usage and exploited Palestinian water resources. Presently, more than 85% of the Palestinian water from the West Bank aquifers is taken by Israel, accounting for 25.3% of Israel's water needs. Palestinians are also denied their right to utilize water resources from the Jordan and Yarmouk Rivers, to which both Israel and Palestine are riparians. At present, Israel is drawing an annual 685 MCM from the Jordan River.

As a result of Israeli policies, Palestinians are permitted to utilize 238 MCM of the water resources to supply 2,895,683 Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza strip with their domestic, industrial and agricultural needs. By comparison, 5,757,900 Israelis are utilizing 1959 MCM. On a per capita basis, water consumption by Palestinians is 82[m.sup.3] compared to 340 [m.sup.3] for Israelis. It should be added that Jewish settlers in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip consume huge amounts of the scarce Palestinian water resources. The 5,500 settlers in the Gaza Strip consume 10 MCM/yr for all purposes, whereas the one million Palestinians within Gaza consume approximately 113 MCM/year (Nassereddin, 1997). In the West Bank, Jewish settlers are consuming 57.3 MCM per year (PWA, 1997). In the West Bank, Jewish settlers are consuming 57.3 MCM per year (PWA, 1997), while Palestinians are struggling to connect the remaining 25 percent of the Palestinian population to household water-distribution systems. Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip receive continuous water supply, largely from groundwater wells in the Palestinian Territories.

In both Palestine and Israel, the agricultural sector uses about two to three times the municipal water consumption. While the agricultural sector in Palestine contributes between 15 and 20 percent of the GDP, it contributes only 1.8 percent to the GDP in Israel. Irrigated area in the Palestinian Territories covers approximately 201,358.00 dunums, of which 94,727.5 dunum are located in the West Bank, mainly in the Jordan Valley, Jenin, and Tulkarm areas. On the other hand, the irrigated area in Israel increased by 340,000 dunum from 1970-1990 (Al-Musa, 1997). Irrigated area in Palestine consumes 151 MCM of water, whereas in Israel it consumes 1,252 MCM. About 64.5 percent of the total irrigated areas in the West Bank are used for vegetables. The Israelis use irrigated areas for citrus, avocado, mango, grapes, apples, peaches, bananas, dates, wheat, corn, cotton, peanuts, potato, vegetables, flowers and flower bulbs that consume huge quantities of water, but the Israeli government supports the farmers to grow such crops.

There is a wide variation in water consumption for domestic purposes between Palestinians and Israelis, as the per capita water use is 30 [m.sup.3] for domestic and industrial purposes for Palestinians in comparison to 100 [m.sup.3] for Israelis for domestic purposes. During summer months, most Palestinian communities experience extended water shortages that last for weeks. For example, during the summer month of 1998, Israel supplied the Palestinian residents of Hebron district with 8500 [m.sup.3] of water per day which is half the regular allotment of 1700 [m.sup.3] of water promised to the city and nearby areas under the items of water agreements. The problem is exemplified by the table on the following page which shows the average consumption of water in Israel and Palestine.

Israeli settlements receive continuous water supply, largely from wells in Palestine, and are provided service of greater quantity per capita than that received by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. When the low monthly quota levels for Palestinian municipalities and towns are approached, the remaining supply is constricted, and communities may be without water for extended periods of time. Heavy fines are imposed by the Israeli Civil Administration for pumping beyond low quota levels.

Water Demand

As discussed earlier, Palestine suffers from water shortage. Current demands, however, for agricultural water exceed supplies. In the future, if the present situation and military occupation continues, no increase of the water supply will be expected to take place, except for agriculture as there is a possibility of using small quantities of treated wastewater from Palestinian cities. The Palestinian water demands per capita are expected to reach those of Israelis by the year 2020 if the peace agreements are reached between the Palestinians and Israelis. It is predicated that by the year 2010 the total amount of water needed for domestic, agriculture, and industrial purposes will be between 650-730 MCM of fresh water (Table 4, ARIJ, 1991).


It is now almost nine years since the initial peace conference at Madrid. Upon Israel's insistence, the peace process was divided into two tracks namely the bilateral negotiations and the multilateral talks. The bilateral were intended to lead to peace treaties between Israel on the one hand and each of the regional parties, namely, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria on the other. The multilateral track was intended to complement and support the bilateral track by promoting regional cooperation. A special working group was established for water resources in the multilateral negotiations.

So far, a peace treaty has been reached between Israel and Jordan in which the water dispute between the two states was resolved based on mutual recognition of the "rightful allocations" of both parties to the Jordan and Yarmouk Rivers as well as the Araba ground waters. The Agreement allows for the use of Lake Tiberias for strong Jordanian surplus rain flows from the Yarmouk to be redrawn during the summer. It also maintained the right of Israeli farmers to draw water from the Nubian sandstone aquifers from the Jordanian territory in the Araba Valley. Israel and Jordan are now working on constructing two damns in the lower Jordan River basin. There is no doubt that this bilateral agreement will not be a substitute for an integrated and comprehensive agreement among all riparians to the Jordan River basin.

On the Israeli-Palestinian track, water was one of the major sticking points in the negotiations leading to the signing of the Interim Agreement (Oslo II) in Washington in September 1995. Water is referred to under Article 40 of Annex 3 "Protocol concerning Civil Affairs". The first principle in the article dealing with water and sewage states, "Israel recognizes the Palestinian water rights in the West Bank. These will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations and settled in the Permanent Status Agreement relating to the various water resources." There is no doubt that this may be considered as an important breakthrough as it is the first time that Israel has recognize the Palestinian water rights. While the Agreement did not go into the details of the Palestinian water rights, the use of the term "various water resources" in the second sentence is very significant.

While this recognition is a very important step forward, the second and third principles in the Agreement attempt to undermine the significance of this issue by talking about maintaining existing utilization and recognizing the necessity of developing new resources, tacitly accepting that more water is needed to satisfy the needs of both populations. The Agreement states that "all powers currently held by the civil administration and military government relating to water and sewage will be transferred to the Palestinians except for those specified as issues for the "final status negotiations." Nevertheless, the Israeli authorities have not transferred the authority for the West Bank Water Department to the Palestinian Water Authority until now.

In Article 40 of the Oslo II agreement, it was agreed that the future needs of Palestinians in the West Bank are between 70-80 MCM/year of fresh water. It was also agreed that the immediate need of the Palestinians for domestic water use during the interim period is 28.6 MCM/year. The Palestinian responsibility is to supply 1.1 MCM/yr of water through the drilling of new wells, whereas the remaining 9.5 MCM/yr is to be supplied by Israel (Oslo II, 1995).

In order to honor the Palestinian commitment of providing 19.1 MCM/yr or newly supplied water resources, coordination was necessary within the framework of the joint Israeli-Palestinian-American Committee agreed upon by the Joint Water Committee (JWC) on water production and development-related projects. A project was initiated which was to being execution in July 1997. Six monitoring wells, between 300 and 700 m in depth, and six pairs of water supply wells, between 350 and 850 m in depth, were to be constructed at locations in the Heron, Bethlehem, Janin, Nablus, and Ramallah areas. Within the framework of JWC, the Israelis had given the Palestinian proposed locations, but not permission for 11 well sites for constructing Palestinian wells. These proposed wells were to be located in Hebron, Bethlehem and East Jerusalem to tap the Eastern Aquifer System. According to the working plan of the project, the wells were to be completely constructed within 18 months of initiation. So far, only two permissions have been given to construct two wells in the Hebron-Bethlehem area in the Herodion well field. Moreover, and in violation of the agreement by the Israelis, Israel has only supplied an additional 7 MCM of water per year of the 80 million to which it has committed itself.

The new wells dug so far are:

* Batn el Ghul-Well No. 5 in Bethlehem district (active since 1994)

* Bala'a well in Tulkarm district (active since 1995)

* Ayn Sinya well near Jifna in Ramallah district, dug by the Jerusalem Water Undertaking (JWU) in cooperation with GTZ in 1994, but it has failed to produce water.

* Mekorot constructed a new well for the municipality of Jenin in 1996 in order to provide its population with an additional 1.4 MCM/yr as stated in the Oslo II Interim Agreement. The well has failed to extract water and negotiations are still in process between the Israelis and Palestinians as to the causes of failure in the possibility of other alternatives for water supply there.

* Hebron Municipality, in cooperation with GTZ, is currently constructing two wells for domestic purposes in the Wadi Sa'ir area; these are expected to be in operation soon.

* A new well was constructed by Mekorot in February 1996 in accordance with the Oslo II agreement for the interim period; however, it was considered by Israel as non-feasible and the well was shut down. Negotiations are continuing between the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) and Israel regarding this well.

* Another well was constructed by Jerusalem Water Undertaking in cooperation with GTZ in 1994 at Ayn Sinya of Ramallah district but it has also failed to pump water.

* Another two wells are being currently constructed in Wadi Sa'ir area for the Hebron Municipality in cooperating with GTZ.

Regarding the overall additional 70-80 MCM/a, the bulk of this volume was to come from the eastern aquifer, where the main proportion of the water not yet exploited was brackish. Harnessing such water requires relatively large initial outlays and can pose an environmental hazard because of potential brine leakage into the source aquifer. In sum, Palestinians are getting an additional 7 MCM of water per year of the 80 million to which Israel has committed itself. So far, the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have not seen the translation of this Agreement to water in their taps, but continue to experience severe water shortages. The water issue has been a contentious one, involving conflict with the United States, because Israel refused to allow the Palestinians to drill three wells in the area of Herodion. The US allocated 46 million dollars for the project which was to be carried out by an American company. Some time ago, the ministry gave permission for two of the wells, but did not grant a permit for the third -- and largest - well to be drilled near the Jewish settlement of Takoa. American experts say it makes no sense to drill for the two smaller wells if they cannot drill the third well because they need all three geographically together to determine sources.

Israel intends to hold large areas of the West Bank in order to create "security zones" and to ensure that Israel's water resources are not exposed to dangers. Minister Sharon was quoted as saying: "My view of Judea and Samaria is well known, the absolute necessity of protecting our water in this region is central to our security. It is a non-negotiable item." (Boston Sunday Globe, 18 October 1998). In one of his meeting with the Palestinian negotiators, the Israeli water commission Ben-Meir noted, "I recognize needs, not rights. We are prepared to connect Arab villages to Israel as well, but I want to retain sovereignty on hand." Such statements confirm Palestinian fears of a dry peace and of Israel's genuine aspirations for peace.


Distinction Between Hydrology and Hydromythology

The water issue has been exploited by many Israeli politicians to serve their own agendas. Water becomes a security issue, implying that Israel is a water scarce county whose viability depends on retaining all the water resources it now controls. Security is perhaps the central concept in Israeli political dialogue -- the slogan "national security" is frequently reformulated in terms of "environmental security," "food security," "water security." As de Shalis and Talis (1994) observe, the Israeli political agenda is overburdened with security issues: "Almost any political question in Israel is overridden by even the smallest security consideration." It is this obsession with security that informs many of Israel's approaches towards solving the water crisis. Above all, Israel has felt a need to have military or political control over its water supplies, and has therefore resisted perceiving the problem in terms of water rights, or in the economic terms of supply and demand, surplus and deficit.

While one questions the wisdom of needing to allocate 100 cm of water per capita per year for domestic purposes, even with such a figure, Israel and Palestine have between them enough fresh water resources to meet the needs of an overall population of 21.3 million persons. When both countries reach that stage in 30-40 years, water desalination or mining of fossil aquifers can be sought.

Abandon Fantasies and Quick Fixes

Israel's proposed solutions to the water conflict have focused on "enlarging the pie" by increasing the water supplies to the region. A wide array of proposals have been made ranging from multi-billion dollar Red-Dead or Med-Dean canals, "peace pipelines" from Turkey, Lebanon, or Egypt to Medusa Bags, ferrying water from countries with water surplus to those in short supply, to tugging icebergs from northern areas, to mega-desalination projects. The recent Israeli proposal submitted to donors is to build a mega-desalination plant in Gaza to provide 50 MCM per annum of desalinated water to solve the water crisis in Gaza. The estimated capital costs of such a plant are 250 million US dollars and the estimated cost for producing each CM of desalinated water is one dollar. This means that Gazans will be spending 5 percent of their GNP to satisfy their domestic water needs. Certainly, it makes more sense to have such desalination plants in Israel, which has a larger Mediterranean shore and where the GNP is $17,000 . Frankly, such dream-solutions flounder in the face of astronomical capital expenditure and environmental concerns.

Focusing On Endogenous Ways For Enhancing Supplies

Internal supply enhancement projects are economically, politically, and environmentally more feasible than the much vaunted mega-projects. These could be easily developed in both Israel and Palestine. For instance, rooftop rainwater harvesting is currently utilized in 34 percent of Palestinians houses, supplying at least 10 MCM of fresh water for domestic use. This explains how Palestinians are coping with the Israeli suppressed water supply: this simple measure could potentially provide an additional 17-25 MCM per year in the West Bank alone. The collection of rain water run-off from agricultural plastic sheeting in green houses could enhance water supplies by a further 4 MCM. Such practices would not lead to significant aquifer depletion; 75 percent of rainfall, it should be noted is lost through evaporation.

Another important water resource is the treated wastewater that could be used for irrigation. Sewage collection networks in the West Bank and Gaza Strip cover approximately 25 percent and 30 percent of the population. With the exception of the one for Bethlehem and its neighboring towns and refugee camps, most of the existing systems are old and poorly designed. Collected sewage is either discharged into open areas and valleys, such as in Nablus, Bethlehem, and Hebron, or directed towards treatment plants as the case of Ramallah, Jenin, Tulkarm, Gaza City, Rafah, and Jabalia. A large percentage of wastewater is still collected in cesspits and open channels. Vacuum tankers are used to empty the cesspits when they become full. These tankers are owned by either the municipalities or privately. The collected wastewater is disposed of at any available location, whether open areas, streets or wadis. The few treatment plants that do exist are for the most part not functional. Over the past four years, the Palestini an National Authority has directed its efforts toward wastewater collection and treatment. Unfortunately, its efforts are being hampered by Israel's settlement policies. Most of the wastewater generated in the Israeli settlements is disposed of on Palestinian lands. Israel is stalling the process of licensing Palestinian wastewater treatment plans insisting that Jewish settlements be included. A clear case is that of Salfit, whether work on constructing wastewater collection and treatment has been stalled unless the settlement of Ariel is linked. Palestinians recognize the environmental damage caused by irresponsible wastewater dumping, but they cannot accept that this issue be exploited to legitimize the settlement policy.

These internal supply enhancement practices should be complemented by an increased focus on conservation. According to Palestinian water authorities, as much as 50 percent of domestic water is lost owing to old, inefficient supply systems. During the Israeli occupation period, the so-called civil administration invested very little in developing the Palestinian infrastructure. The Palestinian Water Authority is investing heavily in rehabilitating the water supply networks in Palestine as well as linking the 25 percent of the remaining Palestinian communities with water networks. The artificial recharge of aquifers could help to counter overexploitation of groundwater resources. Additionally, cloud seeding, a process in which chemical condensation nuclei are introduced into cloud systems, could increase precipitation by 10-20 percent (Schiller, 1993).

Mutual Recognition

Israelis and Palestinians should deal with each other as peace partners and neighbors. The suppressed water supply needs to be lifted. An important confidence building measure that Israel needs to initiate immediately is the approval to link the remaining 25 percent of Palestinian villages with piped water and to increase the freshwater supply to Gaza from its national water carrier. Even inside Israel, there is a need to do some restructuring. It is unfortunate that the Arabs in Israel who comprise 20 percent of the population receive less than two percent of the water.

* Removing the historic mistrust between the parties

* Interdependence between states is becoming the norm in world relations

* Believing that basin wide management is the ultimate goal for regional water resources.

* Realizing the unilateral steps are detrimental

* Recognition that sustainable peace should be based on justice.

* Accepting the need to live in harmony with nature. There needs to be recognition that the Middle East is an arid and semi-arid region, and that water use should be appropriate to this natural fact. Cultivated land should not be extensively irrigated; and water should certainly not be subsidized.

* Joint responsibility for the protection of water resources.

Protection of water resources should be a joint responsibility of Palestinians and Israelis. Regulatory measures for controlling the sources of contamination should be applied to the performance, technical aspects, or best management criteria for the source. Performance regulations may reflect the level of the wastewater treatment before the disposal. Technical regulations give a picture to how the source ought to be managed, operated, or maintained.


The water sector in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is one of the most important strategic sectors, which has remained undeveloped over the past three decades. The activities of the Palestinian Water Authority has been restricted by Israel to water supply administration, including operation and maintenance. Under these circumstances, the Palestinian water supply, both quantitatively and qualitatively, is in a particularly critical condition.

With the signing of the Declaration of Principles (DOP) and the Oslo Agreements, Israelis and Palestinians agreed on two main issues: the equitable utilization of water resources and the joint management of the these resources. They also agreed on the development of additional water for various uses (Taba Agreement, Article 40.2). Both sides identified the two issues as principles without defining them. The translation of these principles into actual shares should be negotiated. Equitable utilization forms the basis for the allocation of the existing water resources and it is generally accepted by the International Water Law. However, the term "equitable utilization" cannot be easily quantified. In order to achieve equitable utilization of water resources, Palestinian water rights, recharge area, natural flow and population must be taken into consideration.

Palestinian water rights are summarized as follows:

* Absolute sovereignty over all the Eastern Aquifer water resources, as this aquifer is entirely located beneath the West Bank and is not a shared water resource.

* Equitable water rights in the western and northeastern aquifers, as these aquifers are recharged almost entirely from the West Bank.

* Equitable water rights in the Jordan River System: as a downstream riparian nation to the Jordan River System, Palestine is legally entitled an equitable share of the system's water resources. In this context, the Johnston Plan for Middle East water allocation, which was developed in the mid-1950s, called for, among other things, a West Ghur canal to supply the West Bank with 120 MCM to meet the needs of Palestinians. While the plan of the West Ghur canal was never implemented because of the political conflict, the Palestinian water rights in the Jordan River System are and should remain.

* Water and fishing rights in the Lake Tiberias: this natural reservoir is an integral part of the Jordan River system, in which Palestine is legally a riparian nation with the privilege equitably to utilize all of its available resources.

* Equitable rights in the Mediterranean Sea: Palestine is one of the coastal countries to the Mediterranean Sea and thus should enjoy full rights in its resources, including fishing and sailing, and should have the right to protect it from transboundary pollution.

* Full compensation for damages to Palestine's water resources caused by Israel and reimbursement for water that has been utilized by Israel during the occupation.

On the other hand, the annual safe yield of the aquifers is apportioned according to the extent of recharge area. About 80 percent of the recharge area of the western basin is located within the West Bank while only three percent of the Jordan River's basin fall within Israel's pre-1967 boundaries. Eastern groundwater basin is an unshared groundwater basin as both recharge and storage areas are located within the boundaries of the West Bank.

If it is accepted that allocation of water rights would be made according to equal per capita shares, the total quota of each side would be proportional to the population size. Thus, the 2086 MCM of water available within mandate Palestine would be shared so that Palestinians get 698 MCM instead of 238 MCM which is currently used. The Israeli share should be 1388 MCM instead of 1959 which is currently consumed by the Israelis. The above distribution of water rights between the two sides is building on the population figures. The per capita consumption for both the Palestinians and Israelis will be 241 [m.sup.3]/a.


Resolving the water conflict between Israelis and Palestinians as outlined here is of paramount importance. First, it will introduce for the first time in the region, an integrated water management scheme if adopted and will certainly be of great value for resolving the water conflicts between Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Palestine. Second, it will show the opponents of the peace process that negotiations are possible. For the politicians, it would lessen the chances of conflict; for industrialists and agriculturists, it would foster stable growth; for every citizen, it would result in guaranteed regular supplies of household water.

The resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli allocation and water rights disputes need to be governed by the principles of international law. Two legal aspects of the conflict are of concern. First, Palestinians and Israelis must reach a consensus on sovereignty over water resources in the West Bank and Gaza. Second, Palestinians and Israelis must reach agreement on rightful allocation of shared water resources to each party.

Negotiations over allocations and water rights should be conducted with an eye on justice rather than might, and independent arbitration may be necessary. The international community and financial institutions should be asked to make clear to all parties that loans for international waterway projects will not be forthcoming until the agreement is negotiated.

Jad Isaac is Director General, Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem, Al-Quds University, East Jerusalem.


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Author:Isaac, Jad
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Mar 22, 2000

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