Water Issues Between Israel and the Palestinian Areas

Water is always an important issue in Israel, an arid country, with the desert occupying more than 50% of its land area, similar to other countries in the Middle EAst.

Israel obtains roughly 40 percent of its water from the Sea of Galilee and the Coastal Aquifer, both of which are entirely within Israel’s pre-1967 borders. Another 30 percent comes from the Western and Northeastern Aquifers of the Mountain Aquifer system. These two aquifers straddle the Green Line that separates Israel from the West Bank, but most of the stored water is under pre-1967 Israel, making it easily accessible only in Israel.

Agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs included discussion of water resources and responsibilities for them. Prior to the Oslo agreements, when Israel had full control of the West Bank, Israel’s policy was to ensure a safe supply of drinking water for all inhabitants, although some Palestinian Arab communities refused to be hooked up to the Israeli-built system for political reasons. Annex III, Article 40 of the Oslo II agreement stipulates an increase of water for Palestinian use and sets forth the details of measures each side is to take to achieve this increased water supply. Two-thirds of the increase was to be developed by the Palestinians, one-third by Israel.

After Oslo II, Israel moved expeditiously to fulfill its side of the water development, but the Palestinian Authority (PA) has severely neglected its obligations. In some locations, nothing was done. In other cases, Israel produced wells but the PA did not build the pipes to carry the water to Palestinian Arab consumers. The PA has not repaired antiquated and corroded pipes which cause significant water losses. In line with other corruption rampant in PA-controlled areas, there is considerable theft of water. Water trucks tap the resource illegally from water mains, then sell the water to thirsty customers.

In areas where the PA controls water for Jewish communities, in the vicinity of Hebron for example, there are frequent supply disruptions and shortages. Some of the water that is supplied is undrinkable. Wealthy Palestinians in Bethlehem, Hebron and Ramallah have private swimming pools and ample water supply, a fact that always escapes the notice of pro-Palestinian reporters.

In the 1950s Israel used 95 percent of the Western Aquifer’s water, and 82 percent of the Northeastern Aquifer’s water. By 1999 Israel’s share of those aquifers declined to 83 percent and 80 percent respectively. That is, under Israeli administration the Palestinian share of the aquifers increased. Another 40 MCM (million cubic meters) of water per year from sources within Israel is piped over the Green Line for Palestinian use and additional water is sent to Jordan. Ramallah, for example, receives over 5 MCM annually from Israeli sources. The Palestinians are using Israeli water, not the other way around.

There is a continuing, serious issue of water management in the region from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. With an increasing population in Israel and the Palestinian Arab areas, the future must include more intensive application of the most advanced methods of water conservation and use along with improvements in new technology such as advanced methods of desalination. The science and technology for this will have to come from the Israelis.

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