Water: Future Agreement Between Israel and The Palestinians

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Super Investing

Access to water is a fundamental component of any future agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.[1] Despite recent reports by NGOs and other entities, Israel is in full compliance with the terms for water use and supply set out in the Oslo II peace process and delineated in the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement.

In 2008, Israel provided 66 percent more water to the Palestinians than required, and the total amount of water available to the Palestinians exceeds the agreed-upon terms.[2]

The Palestinians, however, have failed to manage their water resources adequately. Water losses in the Palestinian water network amount to 33 percent of their total supply. The Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) has also failed to utilize the Eastern Aquifer (see map 1), despite the availability of dozens of wells available to access the aquifer.[3]

In addition, the Palestinians have rejected on political grounds a proposal which would have created a water desalination plant in Israel specifically to meet Palestinian needs. The U.S. had set aside $250 million for the project which could have yielded a huge increase in the amount of available water for the Palestinians.[4]

The PWA has also failed to construct enough water treatment facilities; as a result, 65 percent of its wastewater flows untreated into streams and the West Bank countryside. The wastewater could be treated and reused for agricultural purposes to free up fresh water supplies for human consumption, as done in Israel. International donors have pledged $300 million to the Palestinians for this purpose but the PWA is not advancing water treatment projects. Instead, the untreated effluent pollutes the environment and contaminates the wells and aquifers of the West Bank.[5]

If the Palestinians were to enact measures to prevent water losses, reuse treated water and utilize the Eastern Aquifer, problems of water access and distribution could be ameliorated.

Water distribution, supply and use in the West Bank, Israel and neighboring countries

The distribution of water resources between Israel and the Palestinians was agreed upon in the framework of the Oslo Accords. The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, signed in September 1995, stipulated that the water supply to the Palestinians would be 4,167 million cubic feet (118 million cubic meters (MCM)) per year.[6] The agreement over water resources was to have lasted five years. However, both Israel and the Palestinians have continued to work within the parameters of the agreement ever since. [7]

In 2007, the total quantity of fresh water available to the Palestinians was 7,062 million cubic feet (200MCM), which includes 353 million cubic feet (10MCM) that the Palestinians extract from unauthorized wells.[8]

Israel’s multiannual average, per capita consumption of fresh water is 5,403 cubic feet (153 cubic meters); for the Palestinians that number is 3,708 cubic feet (105 cubic meters).[9]

Under the Interim Agreement, Israel is obligated to supply the Palestinian Water Authority with 1,094 million cubic feet (31MCM) of water annually. In 2008, Israel supplied 1,836 million cubic feet (51.8 MCM). [10]

Israel’s neighbors use far more water per capita. The multiannual average of fresh water usage per capita from 1993 to 2008 for Lebanon was 33,514 cubic feet (949 cubic meters) per capita; for Syria was 30,405 cubic feet (861 cubic meters) per capita and for Egypt was 25,850 cubic feet (732 cubic meters) per capita.[11]

In 2009, Israeli desalination plants provided 5,862 million cubic feet (166MCM) per year of desalinated water from seawater and brackish water. In December 2009, a new desalination plant with capacity for 3,531 million cubic feet (100MCM) per year commenced operations.[12]

map1
Map 1: Map Showing Wells Approved by the JWC for Drilling by the Palestinians since the signing of the Interim Agreement. Source: The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians, Water Authority of the State of Israel, March 2009, p.10

Inefficiencies and violations in the Palestinian water network

The Palestinian water network is highly inefficient. Water losses in the Palestinian network amount to 33 percent of its total supply (including the illegal Palestinian diversion of water from the supply network – see below). Average water loss in the Israeli network is 11 percent. Palestinians could save 353 million cubic feet (10MCM) annually if they enacted measures to reduce water loss.[13]

As of 2008, Israel has approved the drilling of 70 water wells (mainly in the Eastern Aquifer – see see map 1) with a total estimated extraction capacity of more than 1,766 million cubic feet (50MCM) per year. Approximately half of the approved wells have not yet been drilled or put into operation by the Palestinian Water Authority.[14]

All water wells have to be approved by the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee (JWC). However, Palestinians have dug over 250 wells without the approval of the commission, mainly in the Northern Mountain Aquifer (see map 2). This contravenes the Interim Agreement which states that the Palestinians should utilize the Eastern Aquifer for future water needs.[15]

The Palestinians illegally siphon water from the Israeli water provider, Mekorot, which supplies both Israelis and Palestinians. For this reason, there are water shortages in Hebron, Bani Naim, Beita and other Palestinian villages and communities. The illegal theft amounts to 123 million cubic feet (3.5MCM) of water per year.[16]

map2
Map 2: Map Showing Unapproved Wells (About 146 of the total 250 unapproved wells are shown. The existence of the others is known, but they are not indicated since their exact coordinates aren’t available). Source: The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians, Water Authority of the State of Israel, March 2009, p.10

The Palestinians have not developed the Eastern Aquifer despite the fact that the JWC has approved every request to drill wells in it. Water taken from the Eastern Aquifer has an additional usable quantity of 1,413 million cubic feet (40MCM) per year. [17]

Palestinian rejection of desalination plant and sewage problems

Israel has set aside land in the Israeli coastal city of Hadera for a desalination plant to provide water for the Palestinians. The Palestinians have rejected this proposal on political grounds saying that they shouldn’t have to pay for water which is derived from Israeli access to the sea. The capacity of the proposed desalination plant would be 5,297 million cubic feet (150MCM) per year. The U.S. said that it would set aside $250 million for the project.[18]

The Water Works Committee of the JWC approved laying hundreds of kilometers of water pipes throughout the West Bank and the construction of dozens of storage reservoirs and pumping stations.[19]

The Palestinians have failed to construct sewage treatment facilities as required of them in the Interim Agreement. This has led to the pollution of water supplies and the degradation of the environment. For example, the Hebron stream which flows toward the Be’er Sheva Valley has now become polluted and nearby Palestinian and Israeli communities suffer from polluted water, bad odors, flies and mosquitoes. The Nablus stream which flows westward is also now polluted. The westward flow of this stream pollutes water inside Israel. Many other streams have effectively become wastewater channels for Palestinian towns and cities and the untreated water subsequently pollutes the Mountain Aquifer which then affects water drawn from wells. This has led to the contamination and closure of a number of wells in the Bethlehem district, the Jerusalem district and some in the Jordan Valley as well.[20]

The Palestinians generate 1,836 million cubic feet (52MCM) annually of wastewater. Of this, 141 million cubic feet (4MCM) is treated by the Palestinians and 494 million cubic feet (14MCM) by Israel. The rest is untreated and pollutes the groundwater.[21]

map3
Map 3: Map Showing the Three Mountain Aquifer SubBasins and their Average Potential As Defined in the Interim Agreement. Source: The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians, Water Authority of the State of Israel, March 2009, p.10

Treated wastewater can be used for agricultural irrigation, freeing up freshwater supplies for human consumption. Israel has developed advanced methods of water treatment and in 2010 Israel will use 16,245 million cubic feet (460MCM) per year of treated wastewater for irrigation purposes. This amounts to 19 percent of Israel’s total water usage which in 2010 will be 84,755 million cubic feet (2,400MCM).[23]

Israel’s use of treated wastewater, its desalination activities, measures to reduce water losses in the water system and other water-saving procedures add 28,252 million cubic feet (800MCM) per year to its water supply, amounting to 33 percent of Israel’s total water usage of 84,755 million cubic feet (2,400MCM).[24]

According to a report by the European Commission, Israel uses more wastewater effluents (on a percentage basis) per capita for agricultural irrigation and wastewater than any other country in the world. Israel is also second in overall wastewater reuse after California.[25]

Footnotes:

[1] “The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement – Annex III: Protocol Concerning Civil Affairs,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sept. 28, 1995, http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Peace+Process/Guide+to+the+Peace+Process/THE+ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN+INTERIM+AGREEMENT+-+Annex+III.htm#app-40

[2] “The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians,” Water Authority of the State of Israel, March 2009, p.34, http://www.water.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/A111EFEF-3857-41F0-B598-F48119AE9170/0/WaterIssuesBetweenIsraelandthePalestinians.pdf

[3] “The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians,” Water Authority of the State of Israel, March 2009, p.20, http://www.water.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/A111EFEF-3857-41F0-B598-F48119AE9170/0/WaterIssuesBetweenIsraelandthePalestinians.pdf

[4] “Palestine: building of a desalination plant in Hadera contested,” Web site of the IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre, March 17, 2009, http://www.irc.nl/page/47170; Kedmi, Sharon, “U.S. to fund desalination plant for Palestinians near Hadera,” Haaretz, Feb. 8, 2005, http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/business/u-s-to-fund-desalination-plant-for-palestinians-near-hadera-1.149591; Rinat, Zafir, “Council approves desalination plant for Palestinians,” Haaretz, May 14, 2008, http://www.haaretz.com/news/council-approves-desalination-plant-for-palestinians-1.245793

[5] “The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians,” Water Authority of the State of Israel, March 2009, p.13, http://www.water.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/A111EFEF-3857-41F0-B598-F48119AE9170/0/WaterIssuesBetweenIsraelandthePalestinians.pdf

[6] “MFA response to World Bank report regarding water in the Palestinian Authority,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, April 28, 2009, p.3-4, http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/About+the+Ministry/MFA+Spokesman/2009/Press+releases/Response-to-World-Bank-repor-+on-PA-water-28-Apr-2009.htm

[7] “The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians,” Water Authority of the State of Israel, March 2009, p.3-4, http://www.water.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/A111EFEF-3857-41F0-B598-F48119AE9170/0/WaterIssuesBetweenIsraelandthePalestinians.pdf

[8] “The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians,” Water Authority of the State of Israel, March 2009, p.8, http://www.water.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/A111EFEF-3857-41F0-B598-F48119AE9170/0/WaterIssuesBetweenIsraelandthePalestinians.pdf

[9] “The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians,” Water Authority of the State of Israel, March 2009, p.18, http://www.water.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/A111EFEF-3857-41F0-B598-F48119AE9170/0/WaterIssuesBetweenIsraelandthePalestinians.pdf

[10] “The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians,” Water Authority of the State of Israel, March 2009, p. 35, http://www.water.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/A111EFEF-3857-41F0-B598-F48119AE9170/0/WaterIssuesBetweenIsraelandthePalestinians.pdf

[11] “The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians,” Water Authority of the State of Israel, March 2009, p.18, http://www.water.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/A111EFEF-3857-41F0-B598-F48119AE9170/0/WaterIssuesBetweenIsraelandthePalestinians.pdf

[12] “The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians,” Water Authority of the State of Israel, March 2009, p.29, http://www.water.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/A111EFEF-3857-41F0-B598-F48119AE9170/0/WaterIssuesBetweenIsraelandthePalestinians.pdf

[13] “The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians,” Water Authority of the State of Israel, March 2009, p.20, http://www.water.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/A111EFEF-3857-41F0-B598-F48119AE9170/0/WaterIssuesBetweenIsraelandthePalestinians.pdf

[14] “The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians,” Water Authority of the State of Israel, March 2009, p. 35, http://www.water.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/A111EFEF-3857-41F0-B598-F48119AE9170/0/WaterIssuesBetweenIsraelandthePalestinians.pdf

[15] “MFA response to World Bank report regarding water in the Palestinian Authority,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, April 28, 2009, http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/About+the+Ministry/MFA+Spokesman/2009/Press+releases/Response-to-World-Bank-repor-+on-PA-water-28-Apr-2009.htm; “The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians,” Water Authority of the State of Israel, March 2009, p. 10, http://www.water.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/A111EFEF-3857-41F0-B598-F48119AE9170/0/WaterIssuesBetweenIsraelandthePalestinians.pdf; “The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement – Annex III: Protocol Concerning Civil Affairs,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sept. 28, 1995, http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Peace+Process/Guide+to+the+Peace+Process/THE+ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN+INTERIM+AGREEMENT+-+Annex+III.htm#app-40

[16] “The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians,” Water Authority of the State of Israel, March 2009, p.11, http://www.water.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/A111EFEF-3857-41F0-B598-F48119AE9170/0/WaterIssuesBetweenIsraelandthePalestinians.pdf

[17] “The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians,” Water Authority of the State of Israel, March 2009, p.21, http://www.water.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/A111EFEF-3857-41F0-B598-F48119AE9170/0/WaterIssuesBetweenIsraelandthePalestinians.pdf

[18] “Palestine: building of a desalination plant in Hadera contested,” Web site of the IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre, March 17, 2009, http://www.irc.nl/page/47170; Kedmi, Sharon, “U.S. to fund desalination plant for Palestinians near Hadera,” Haaretz, Feb. 8, 2005, http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/business/u-s-to-fund-desalination-plant-for-palestinians-near-hadera-1.149591; Rinat, Zafir, “Council approves desalination plant for Palestinians,” Haaretz, May 14, 2008, http://www.haaretz.com/news/council-approves-desalination-plant-for-palestinians-1.245793

[19] “The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians,” Water Authority of the State of Israel, March 2009, p.5, http://www.water.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/A111EFEF-3857-41F0-B598-F48119AE9170/0/WaterIssuesBetweenIsraelandthePalestinians.pdf

[20] “The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians,” Water Authority of the State of Israel, March 2009, p.11, http://www.water.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/A111EFEF-3857-41F0-B598-F48119AE9170/0/WaterIssuesBetweenIsraelandthePalestinians.pdf

[21] “The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians,” Water Authority of the State of Israel, March 2009, p.11, http://www.water.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/A111EFEF-3857-41F0-B598-F48119AE9170/0/WaterIssuesBetweenIsraelandthePalestinians.pdf

[22] “The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians,” Water Authority of the State of Israel, March 2009, p.12, http://www.water.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/A111EFEF-3857-41F0-B598-F48119AE9170/0/WaterIssuesBetweenIsraelandthePalestinians.pdf

[23] Prof. Shelef, Gedaliah, “Wastewater Treatment, Reclamation And Reuse In Israel,” Bar Ilan University, the-israeli-palestinian-water-conflict-an-israeli-perspective. Accessed May 12, 2010

[24] “The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians,” Water Authority of the State of Israel, March 2009, p.29, http://www.water.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/A111EFEF-3857-41F0-B598-F48119AE9170/0/WaterIssuesBetweenIsraelandthePalestinians.pdf

[25] “Development of Tools and Guidelines for the Promotion of the Sustainable Urban Wastewater Treatment and Reuse in the Agricultural Production in the Mediterranean Countries – Task 5: Technical Guidelines on Wastewater Utilisation,” European Commission, June 2005, Task5_revised.doc

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