“Peace with Syria… will obviously require the return of the Golan.” (from interview with “Moti”)
In its hegemonic control of water in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Israel violates UN Resolutions 242 and 338, and customary international law, as well as Jewish law. In this way it shows its lack of commitment to being a true democratic state that exists peacefully within a globalized context, as well as living up to its claim of being a Jewish State. In this study, I show how Israel has intentionally used water as a tool of warfare and occupation. However, even Israel knows that the water resources in its territories, on both sides of the Green Line, are scarce, and requires cooperative operations for supplying the demand. In this way, I believe that the water crises in the Middle East can be transformed into a tool of peace.
Currently, there are 359 abstraction wells in the West Bank under Palestinian control, most of which are privately owned. Combined, they yield 62 million cubic meters per year (mcm/yr). Israel controls an additional 36 abstraction wells in the West Bank, which yield 42 mcm/yr (Jayoussi, 60). Considering Israel also has access to the 600 mcm/yr from the Jordan River (a source which Palestinians are prohibited from using), and the use of five aquifers within its 1948 borders (Lake Tabariyya, the Western Galilee, the Coastal, the Naqab/Negev, and the Carmel), and considering the populations of Israelis and Palestinians are comparable, it seems unnecessary that Israel should commandeer almost half of the West Bank groundwater resources (Daibes, 10). Aside from the groundwater, Palestinians do control all 300 springs in the West Bank, which yield a total of about 103 mcm/yr, but half of that water is brackish and unusable for anything other than agricultural use. In Gaza, 53 mcm/yr is allotted to the Palestinian Municipal and Industrial sector, of which approximately 2% is bought from Mekerot, the Israeli water company. Because most of the water in Gaza is undrinkable, and desalination plants are expensive and require land that the Gaza Strip cannot afford to industrialize, 85% of the groundwater is used purely for agricultural purposes, with a small percentage of water, supplemented by Mekerot, going to public consumption.
Domestic Palestinian public consumption varies from 30 liters per capita per day (l/c/d) to 110 l/c/d, according to geographic area and time of year. This is an average of 60 l/c/d, which fall far below the World Health Organization’s (WHO) minimum of 100 l/c/d. Israelis within the 1948 borders consume approximate 300 l/c/d (Jayyousi, 67). Settlers in the West Bank (despite their very existence being illegal by International Law) consume on average six times more water per capita than their Palestinian neighbors.
Though the situation looks bleak now, the promises of groups like FoEME making a difference in the future is encouraging. There is hope to progressively establish long-term sustainability, starting with understanding and agreements without the formality of binding agreements. Trust should be built first, and treaties that can actually be followed will come later. If Israel and the Palestinian Authority can work together, as they are trying to do with the Red-Dead Conduit, on gaining knowledge of the transboundary water supplies, they can explore options of water-sharing that will be satisfactory to everyone. Even though this will undoubtedly lead to some cessation of power of water that Israel enjoys, it will be ultimately good for Israel in the promise for peace that this trust will allow for. There will need to be lawyers, economists, and environmental scientists from both sides, so that every aspect of the water-sharing plan can be considered, and so that everyone feels included and listened to. There should also be a neutral third party with their own team of scientists, economists, and lawyers (no politicians allowed!). Everyone should agree on “interests, not positions” (Daibes, 45), and “seek a solution by mediation, conciliation, arbitration, and juridical settlement” (UN Charter, Article 33). The water dispute must be solved as an interlinking element to the conflict that calls for comprehensive, cooperative treatment before final status agreements can be reached.