Water

Key Facts

  • For lasting peace, Israeli concerns regarding assured access to the waters of the Jordan River must be addressed.
  • Palestinians view the subterranean water sources as part of their territorial claims.
  • Pending a negotiated final status accord between Israel and the Palestinians, water rights in these aquifers are governed by an interim agreement administered by a Joint Water Commission (JWC).
  • Many JWC-approved wells have not been built; Palestinians have instead built illegal, unmonitored wells, which have contributed to aquafer shortages and impurities.
  • The interim agreement calls for both sides to develop new water sources; Israel has developed cutting-edge desalination and water recycling processes and technologies, which it has shared with the Palestinian Water Authority, to fulfill this obligation and ensure sustainability.
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As demonstrated by the prominent role water rights played in the formulation of the Israel-Jordan Peace Accord, access to water is a key element of Israel’s relations with its neighbours. While differences were overcome in that case, Israel-Syria relations continue to be strained by issues related to water management, specifically Syria’s demand for permanent access to the north-eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee and control over the headwaters of the Jordan River – Israel’s primary sources of fresh water.  Syria’s unilateral efforts to establish a presence on the Sea of Galilee have provoked clashes with Israel, and Syria’s move to divert the flow of the Jordan River away from Israel was a key contributing factor to the outbreak of the Six-Day War.

If lasting peace is to be achieved, Israeli concerns regarding assured access to the waters of the Jordan River must be addressed.

Water is also an important feature of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. Major sources of water for both sides – a series of underground aquifers – do not respect political frontiers, straddling or traversing the boundaries between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Israeli agriculture and industry, especially in the densely populated coastal plain, is highly dependent on water provided by these aquifers and would be adversely affected if they were to be transferred to exclusive Palestinian control. However, the Palestinians view the subterranean water sources as part and parcel of their territorial claims.

Pending a negotiated final status accord between Israel and the Palestinians, water rights in these aquifers are governed by an interim agreement, signed between the two parties in 1995 and administered by a Joint Water Commission (JWC). According to this arrangement, the Palestinians are entitled to 227 million cubic metres (MCM) of water per year, though Israel provides an additional 21 MCM above its obligation bringing the total sum to 248MCM. This translates to a per capita sum of 124 cubic metres per year. In comparison, Israel’s per capita sum of fresh water is 150 cubic metres per year.

95% of Palestinian homes are connected to water infrastructure, with residents of Palestinian cities having better access to water than those of Amman or Damascus. Despite this, total Palestinian consumption is 190 MCM, the equivalent of 95 cubic metres per year, falling short of their total allotment. In order to access additional water, the Palestinians would have to dig deeper wells, which have been postponed due to a lack of funding and internal mismanagement. In fact, of the 66 Palestinian wells approved for construction, despite no legal or other impediments to doing so, 24 still have not yet been built.

Instead, a network of illegal Palestinian wells has been dug without either JWC approval or hydrological and engineering assessments. These unapproved wells siphon water from the aquifers and contribute to their becoming polluted and brackish. Moreover, these unapproved wells are all located in areas where the aquifer flows west toward Israel and, thereby, cut off the flow of water before it reaches Israel reducing the amount of water available to approved Israeli wells. In contrast, the approved Palestinian wells are located in areas where the aquifer flows east, toward the rest of the West Bank, but these wells are more expensive to dig, as the east-flowing aquifer is deeper underground.

Unfortunately, with population growth and pollution from unauthorized well construction in the West Bank, the aquifers will not be a sufficient long-term fresh water resource for Israelis and Palestinians. The interim agreement calls for both sides to develop new water sources with this eventuality in mind.

Israel has developed cutting edge desalination and water recycling processes and technologies, which it has shared with the Palestinian Water Authority, to fulfill this obligation and ensure sustainability.

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