c EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection

Israel and the West Bank build a bridge over murky waters

The new Memorandum of Understanding signed between Israel and West Bank in December 2013 goes some way to addressing Palestinian water shortages but it does not address the root causes of this shortage and the disparity in water supply between Israel and the West Bank.

The memorandum signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authorities stipulates that the Israeli water authority, Mekorot, will supply the West Bank with 20-30 million cubic metres of desalinated water a year. This will help to alleviate severe water shortages that currently beset the West Bank. In 2009 the World Bank reported that litres per capita availability in many areas of the West Bank fell far below WHO’s recommended guideline. WHO recommends 100 litres of water per capita per day (lpcd), but for a quarter of the population connected to the water supply network availability fell to below 50 lpcd.

The new supply of water that the West Bank will receive represents a 21.5% increase upon its current total supply of 139.6m cubic metres. This has the potential to increase water availability for each person in the West Bank by approximately 47 litres per day. Such an increase could bring the average total water supply in the West Bank closer to WHO’s optimal water supply recommendation.

The new memorandum is also a significant political achievement for the region. Both sides have managed to put the greater Arab-Israeli conflict aside and cooperate over water to improve the livelihoods of people in the West Bank. Such breakthroughs bring both sides together which may help to spur reconciliation and peace in the region.

However, whilst this agreement will supply the West Bank with much needed water, it will not help to get rid of some of the root causes behind the severe water shortages in the West Bank. The World Bank, Amnesty International and the UNHCR have all criticised Israel at times for how it has restricted Palestinian access to water in the West Bank. In the past, West Bank Palestinian communities have had their wells destroyed by the IDF. Palestinians have also been restricted from developing their own domestic water sources because of Israeli vetoes in a Joint Water Committee (JWC) that manages the water infrastructure in the West Bank. Such actions have had the effect of limiting the Palestinians water authority’s ability to develop its own domestic water supply system.

All the while, Israeli authorities have been known to promote the development of water infrastructure to Israeli settler communities in the West Bank to the detriment of the Palestinian population. Israeli authorities have also over-extracted groundwater from aquifers in the West Bank above an agreed quota with the Palestinians. Consequently, in 2009 the World Bank noted that ‘Palestinian per capita access to water resources in the West Bank is a quarter of Israeli access and is declining.’

Part of the water shortages can be put down the Palestinian Water Authority’s weakness; the PWA does recognise that it struggles to cater for the population of the West Bank and has asked for outside help to help improve its capabilities. Nevertheless, the new Memorandum of Understanding does nothing to change the conduct of Israeli authorities when it comes to water supply in the West Bank. Instead, the West Bank has now become more dependent upon Israel for its water supply; 49% of the water supplied to the West Bank will come from Israeli sources, up from 38% in 2009. Given the conduct of Israeli authorities in the past, this may be a cause for concern for some West Bank Palestinians.

Above all, it is important that the West Bank gets the water that it needs. It should not be a concern if this water comes from a foreign country or not, especially if hydro-political cooperation may facilitate cooperation in other areas. However, taking into consideration the conduct of Israel in the past and some of the reasons behind water shortages in the West Bank, it is important to question this agreement and consider what other measures may need to be taken in the region to ensure an equitable supply of water to the West Bank.

Francis Aumonier

Francis is a graduate of King's College London where he studied his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in the War Studies department. In his free time he writes articles in his interest areas of international relations and development economics He is available for contact on francis.aumonier -at- gmail.com

4 comments on “Israel and the West Bank build a bridge over murky waters

  1. William Bilek, M.D. on said:

    Your comments are inaccurate.

    “Palestinians have also been restricted from developing their own domestic water sources because of Israeli vetoes in a Joint Water Committee (JWC) that manages the water infrastructure in the West Bank.”
    Not exactly. The restrictions to new Palestinian wells have been to those they have tried to dig, illegally, in the northern part of Samaria. In the southern part, in Judea, where they have agreed to dig (but have so far not done so), the P.A. has not exploited the potential it legally has, in favor of trying to deny more to the Israelis.

    “promote the development of water infrastructure to Israeli settler communities in the West Bank to the detriment of the Palestinian population. ”
    Where, and how, specifically?

    ” Israeli authorities have also over-extracted groundwater from aquifers in the West Bank above an agreed quota with the Palestinians. ”
    Please provide specific, unbiased evidence for this.

    “Part of the water shortages can be put down the Palestinian Water Authority’s weakness”
    No. It can be “put down” to P.A. political machinations, e.g. refusing to hook up to Israeli water lines, claiming that this would have the effect of “recognizing” Israeli rights.

    For the same reason, the P.A. refuses to consider repair and upkeep of their existing (severely leaking) water lines, or taking advantage of Israeli offers for extensive recycling of waste water.

    The only thing “saving” the water access for the Palestinians of Judea and Samaria is Israeli control. Left to their own devices they would deplete and contaminate their supply, just as the Palestinians of Gaza have ruined theirs. The difference is that the water in the Judean and Samarian aquifers is also still the mainstay of the Israeli water supply, as it has been since the 1950’s, and the Arabs, knowing this, are prepared to cut off their own nose to spite their face, if that would also mean denying water to the hated Israelis.

    • Francis Aumonier on said:

      The points that I make in the article above have been sourced from a variety of reports from the World Bank, UN Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International. These articles and my responses to your queries are listed below:

      -There are multiple reports which testify to Israel activity in the West Bank harming Palestinian water supply. A good report which points out Israel has hindered Palestinian access to water but promoted Israeli settlers’ access can be found in the following Amnesty International report (http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/MDE15/027/2009). This article explains that Palestinian water infrastructure developments have been destroyed or prevented from being built by Israeli authorities. Whilst, the developments of Israeli settler communities’ wells and water infrastructure has been promoted by Israel, despite the fact that the Israeli authorities acknowledge that these settler communities are illegal. See pages 41-51 and 70-72.

      -From page 85 onward this report explains how the destruction of water infrastructure violates International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law. Further, this section of the report also points out that as the occupying power in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Israel has the responsibility under international law to protect Palestinians’ right to water.

      – The UN Human Right Committee has also voiced its concern about unequal supply of water to Palestinian communities in the West Bank. Point 18 on page 7 of the following document: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrc/docs/CCPR.C.ISR.CO.3.doc

      – Israeli has over extracted water from aquifers in the West Bank by 80%. According to Article 40 of the Oslo Peace Accords Israel was allocated 483 MCM of water from an estimated potential of 679 MCM of water in West Bank aquifers. They have been reported to abstract 871.6 MCM in total, an over extraction of 388.6 MCM. Palestinians on the other hand have reportedly over extracted 0.3 MCM of their quota. This was reported by Hillel Shuval and Hassan Dweik, and cited in the following World Bank report, pgs 7&11 http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTWESTBANKGAZA/Resources/WaterRestrictionsReport18Apr2009.pdf

      – The inability of the Palestinian Water Authority to meet the demands of Palestinian water supply is a weakness that has been recognised by authorities on both sides of the issue:

      Israeli Civil Administration, pg 4 http://www.cogat.idf.il/Sip_Storage/FILES/4/3274.pdf

      Palestinian Water Authority, pgs 12-14 http://www.pwa.ps/userfiles/file/marselya.pdf

      It is on such evidence that I have made the points in the above article and I hope they provide enough support to back up the comments I made. However, I am interested about the first point you made. How the JWC functions is quite a conundrum to me and it is difficult to understand how decisions are made by the committee. I am interested to learn more about what potential Palestinians have failed to exploit, do you know where I could find some information on this?

  2. I have to reject the misleading and patronising rubbish being spewed out by William Bilek below.
    The only things “illegal” in the West Bank are Israeli army camps, settlements and colonists.
    If they were all cleared out, there would be no water shortages. The Palestinians managed their own water supplies for millenia, long before the illegal state of Israel came into existence. The Palestinians do not need the Israelis “help” where water management is concerned. One final thing: the “new” water being supplied is having to be paid for in cash by the Palestinians, even though Israelis have stolen 80 per cent of their water. How fair is that?

  3. Nanush Glaser on said:

    The author apparently has a deep understanding of how to copy paste from various reports of the Human Rights industry, but has no knowledge of geography or hydrology.
    The West Bank is one continuous mountain ridge. The Arab population is concentrated along the spine. Moderate rain falls on the west facing slope during 4 winter months. Streams contain water for just a few weeks a year. The east slope is arid.
    Water seeps deep down through layers of rock, till it reaches an impervious layer. In this case, the springs emerge at the western base of the mountain range on the edge of the coastal plain WITHIN ISRAEL.
    The author further brings numbers comparing water consumption between the two political entities. Rediculous. Israel’s northern Galilee has much higher rainfall. (I suppose that this is another “Zionist” conspiracy.)
    Furthermore Israel constructed the worlds most encompassing seawater desalination project, and has perhaps the world’s most efficient water system. This is the reason for Israel’s water security, and not theft, as the author would imply.
    Lastly, the author wishes us to believe that the Arab residents of the West Bank are thirsty, perhaps lacking water in their faucets several days a week, as in Jordan. World over, irrigation is the largest consumer of water. Agriculture on the steep hillsides of the West Bank, is mainly olive groves and vineyards (eating, not for wine) neither require irrigation.
    There are a small number of rural settlements that do have water problems – mainly scattered families of shepherds in desert areas, who live off the water grid.