Every now and again, we hear rumors that the Israeli Authority is appropriating water which in actuality belongs to the Palestinian people. These rumors assert that Israel is blocking water from reaching Palestinian children and preventing Palestinians from laying the groundwork which would enable an ample water supply to reach their homes. When comparing the water supply of Israeli settlers and Palestinians, some claim that Israel distributes up to 70 times the amount of water to the Israeli settlers as it does to their Palestinian counterparts.
Let us investigate this claim:
The Oslo II Accord lists the many water distribution requirements of the Israeli and Palestinian Authorities. At the time of signature, each side agreed that the PA would be responsible for developing its own water infrastructure. As a result, an Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee (JWC) was set up to manage water and sewage related infrastructure in the West Bank. The JWC is comprised of Palestinian and Israeli representatives, and each group has the freedom to veto any decisions. At the time of the Oslo 2 Accords, the joint committee agreed to establish multiple drilling sites with the intention of accessing water and sewage pipes; however, most of these plans did not come to fruition, even with the financial support of the international community.
Today, Israel directs more water toward the Palestinians than it had previously agreed to in the Oslo II Accord. The Oslo II Accord is a temporary agreement in which it was decided that upon signing its final copy, Israel would increase the amount of water directed toward the Palestinians (excluding Gazans) from 118 million cubic meters per year to 141.6 million cubic meters per year. In reality, during the 13 years following the Oslo II Accord, Israel provided 180 million cubic meters per year, which far exceeded Israel’s original commitment.
More significantly, Palestinians are far better off today than they were before 1967, when they relied on a far more basic Jordanian plumbing infrastructure. Prior to the 1967 War, merely four of 708 Palestinian cities and villages possessed running water. Because the larger part of the West Bank did not have a plumbing framework at all, the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria initiated new groundwork for supplying the area with water. Between 1967 and 1995, the year the accord with the Palestinians was signed, the water supply was increased from about 66 million cubic meters per year to about 120 million cubic meters per year. Between 1995 and 2012, more than 96% of Palestinians were connected to running water.
However, today the required conditions of the Oslo II Accords are not being met. Over the past few years, the Palestinian Authority, funded by the international community, has allowed illegal drilling in hundreds of locations throughout its territory. This illegal drilling is not supervised properly and harms the mountain aquifer, as it increases the water’s salt level and damages its quality. So much unauthorized water has been channeled, in fact, that in an effort to protect water quality, Israel has had to take steps to reduce the amount of water being pumped out of the mountain aquifer. It is important to note that the mountain aquifer is one of the main sources of drinking water in Israel. Evidently, the Palestinian Authority is utilizing only some of its allotted water from its own resources (There are at least another 40 million cubic meters per year available in the eastern aquifer, and the JWC authorizes each request to drill on its territory.). Hence, for humanitarian reasons, Israel feels compelled to supply at least another 30 million cubic meters per year to the Palestinian territories.
As far as sewage management is concerned, the State of Israel invests heavily in soluble sewage purification. The Palestinian Authority, on the other hand, despite having received funds from various European countries to develop its own water infrastructure, chooses not to do so. This is a result of the spread of anti-normalization propaganda by various international organizations. In the past, for example, EWASH has disparaged the establishment of a Gazan sewage reclamation center, claiming that its establishment would create an acceptance of the Gaza "Occupation". In a separate incident, a group of NGOs led by Al-Haq, ICCO, Pax Christi, and Cordaid prevented the establishment of a water plant in Kidron, which was meant to service all of East Jerusalem as well as its suburbs, by asserting that its institution would be a violation of international law. As a result, while Israeli settlements reuse 88.1% of their sewage, only 46.9% of PA sewage is reused. Of these 46.9%, only 14.1% are managed by the PA, and the remainder is processed by Israel. The rest of the Palestinian sewage is not purified, flowing instead through the Judean Mountains and polluting streams and various other water sources. A large part of these polluted natural water sources are in Judea and Samaria, thus use of this water is toxic for both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
What of the claim that Mekorot, a major water supply organization in Israel, is profiting financially from the Palestinians' dependence upon them? Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, while the average Israeli pays 8.89 shekels per cubic meter, the average Palestinian pays an average of 2.85 shekels for the same amount. Thus, the low price paid by the Palestinian actually creates a loss for the Mekorot company.
Contrary to media claims, there is no critical shortage of water in the Palestinian Authority. For instance, here is the Jericho water park website, boasting that it has the highest number of water slides in the Middle East. Tripadviser advertises additional Palestinian hotels, each sporting photos of large pools. Numerous websites advertise large water parks between Nablus and Tubas in northern Samaria.
In addition to water parks available to the public, there is running water in most locations throughout the PA. In contrast, according to Professor Haim Gvirtzman, large portions of the Jordanian Palestinians live in areas in which running water is provided only two or three days a week.
In conclusion, it is true that Israel is suffering from a drought as water consumption increases. However, rather than using issues of water supply and consumption as points of dissention for Israel, the PA and their neighboring countries, the actual solution may lie in expanding the number of water plants, thus increasing the quantity and availability of water. In a pivotal project, staff at the University of Ariel established the Center for Research and Development in Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley, which endeavors to increase the amount of water available and its efficiency of use. This project is relevant to both Israelis and Palestinians, and provides a possible platform for future collaboration.