The Water Issue in the West Bank and Gaza
June 1999

1. GENERAL

Israel has had an ongoing water deficit for a number of years. The amount of water consumed is greater than the amount of water collected from rainfall. In a drought year, the situation worsens, because the amount of water in reservoirs and the amount of water flowing in rivers and streams is significantly decreased.

There are a number of long-term solutions, such as building water desalination facilities. Short-term solutions include conserving water and building sewage water reclamation plants. Treatment of sewage water accomplishes two purposes: first, supplying purified water to the major water consumers, agriculture and industry; and second, preserving the environment and the quality of the aquifers.

In Israel, there is a growing awareness of the importance of conserving and purifying water. In public gardens and parks, the municipalities are requested to give preference to plants that do not require much water, and to reduce grassy areas. Car-wash facilities receive an operating license on condition that they purify and recycle the water. Local authorities are required to build facilities for treating sewage water, and Israeli farmers were asked to stop raising crops with high water consumption, and to go over to sophisticated cultivation methods that conserve water (such as hothouses and improved irrigation systems).

Because of the drought this year, the government decided to cut the amount of water allocated to agriculture. Forty percent of the water allocation for vegetables, and 20 percent for aquaculture will be cut. During the summer months, possibilities for further cuts in the municipal, industrial and private sectors will be examined.

2. THE WATER ISSUE IN JUDEA, SAMARIA AND GAZA IN LIGHT OF THE INTERIM AGREEMENT

Despite the cut in water allocations within Israel, and despite the supply of the considerable amounts of water mandated by the peace treaty with Jordan, the Water Commissioner, Mr. Meir Ben Meir, announced that the Commission has no intention of cutting the amount of water allocated to the Palestinian Authority, and is even planning to examine the possibility of increasing it.

In contrast to claims by the Palestinian side, Israel did not determine the amount of water to be supplied to the territories. The amount was determined in negotiations between the two sides, with the Americans participating. By the consent of both parties, the amount of water was increased relative to the situation prior to the Interim Agreement. Similarly, a formula was decided upon for increasing the water allocation gradually over the interim period.

The agreement defines the number of wells that Israel is obligated to dig, and the number the P.A. and international bodies are obligated to dig. Cooperation on issues of sewage and environment was also defined. It was decided that jurisdiction over water would be transferred to the Palestinians in the framework of the transfer of civil powers. It was further decided to establish joint monitoring teams.

Israel has fulfilled all of her obligations under the Interim Agreement. The water quota agreed upon, and more, is being supplied. Jurisdiction over water was transferred completely and on time. Israel approved the additional digging of wells. Israel and the P.A. carry out joint patrols to locate cases of water theft and other water-related problems.

IN SUMMARY

1. Israel has implemented her part of the agreement concerning water.

2. Water matters, like other civil powers, have been for some time under the full responsibility of the P.A.

3. Israel is aware of the water shortage in the territories, which is part of the general water shortage in the area (from which Israel is suffering as well).

4. Against this background, many actions are being undertaken by Israel, the P.A. and donor states, separately and in concert, to improve the water situation in the territories.

5. Despite the water shortage in the area, Israel continues to supply the same amount of water to the P.A. and is even searching for ways to increase this amount and to find solutions to the problem. This is in spite of the substantial decrease in water allocations in Israel, and despite problems of adequate cooperation with the P.A. concerning recycling and conservation of water.