Water Resources in Palestine
A Fact Sheet and Basic Analysis of the Legal Status
The violation of the right to equitable and fair utilization of the shared water resources is contrary to the spirit and principles of customary international law and has long been one of the major obstacles to co-operation and the achievement of peace between the Palestinians and Israelis. The transboundary water resources at issue are the international groundwater resources shared between Israel and the West Bank (WB) and the Gaza Strip (GS), and the Jordan River basin that is shared between Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. After many years of conflict, the Israelis and Palestinians are at the negotiation table, hampered by their inequality in power. The major barrier is that Israel, with superior power in every respect, does not recognize the Palestinian right to existence nor does it acknowledge the Palestinian national aspirations. Thus minimum progress has been made during the last seven years of negotiations. No common agreement on the overarching principles for the future utilization of the transboundary water resources has been achieved. The challenge is how the parties can negotiate an agreement irrespective of their unequal bargaining power relying on ethical considerations and good faith. This paper describes the current utilization of the international water resources in the area, followed by an analysis of the existing declarations and agreements, and then will assess the role of international law in the resolution of the conflict.
Extensive literature exists on the historical evolution of the water problem dating back to the early 1900’s. Authors agree that water has always been considered an important strategic element in the Israeli plans for regional development. It has also been a source of economic and political stress. Israel has tapped the Yarkon-Taninim, or Western Mountain, aquifer since 1955. It also relies on two other transboundary aquifers that recharge the WB - the Northeastern and the Eastern Mountain aquifers. The former aquifer discharges into the Jezreel Valley and the latter into the Jordan Valley. The three aquifers combine to provide approximately 30 per cent of Israel's total water supply. One of the major outcomes of the 1967 occupation was the annexation of much of the headwaters of the Jordan River by Israel, and the subsequent loss to Jordan of a significant amount of its available water supply. Since 1967, the key problem relating to the region’s international water resources involves the strict Israeli policy of restricted water allocation in the WB and GS, which deprives the Palestinians of adequate water, both in quality and quantity. Approximately 40% of the groundwater upon which the state of Israel is dependent and more than one-quarter of its sustainable annual water yield originates in the WB. The Palestinian and Israeli negotiations began formally in 1992. The aim of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations was, among other things, to establish an Palestinian interim self-governing authority in the WB and the GS, for a transitional period not to exceed five years, leading to a permanent settlement to be based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. The Government of the State of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), in September 1993, signed a “Declaration of Principles” (DOP). The DOP was the first initiative by both parties to put an end to decades of confrontation. The “Gaza-Jericho” Agreement was signed between the PLO and the State of Israel regarding the autonomous rule of the Palestinian Authority PA, in Jericho and the GS on May 4, 1994. In 1995, the Government of the State of Israel and the PLO entered into an interim agreement on the WB and the GS. Both Parties showed a desire to put into effect the DOP and reaffirmed their recognition of mutual legitimate and political rights. After the murder of Yizhaq Rabin, the former Prime Minister of Israel, successive Israeli governments began to erode the Peace Agreements that had been signed with the PLO. Delays and slow progress characterizes the implementation of the agreements. Currently the negotiations on a water agreement are frozen due to the current tension between the Palestinians and Israelis.