Water and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict
Economically, the Middle Eastern region is primarily agricultural, which is being practiced in an arid and desert-like environment. Water is a highly politicized and naturally scarce resource in the region, and there have always been conflicts over the ownership and use of water resources. Modern history has shown that even as water supplies in the Middle East are limited, unequal use and overuse of water resources by Israel has hindered development and peace between Israel and Palestine, as well as in the region as a whole.
Specifically, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be attributed, to some extent, to disputes over the scarce and valuable water resources of the Jordan River basin and its aquifers. Israel and Palestine share the Jordan River with three other riparian countries, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, and both also share four groundwater aquifer basins: the Mountain Aquifers (the North-eastern, the Western, and the Eastern Mountain Aquifers) and the Coastal Aquifer. The Mountain Aquifer is shared by Israel and the West Bank and the Coastal aquifer is shared by Israel and Gaza. Since 1967 Israel has controlled both of these water resources where it allocates and sells water to the Palestinians on its terms and without due regard to their needs.
The key problem is the lack of water for Palestine that impedes its development and jeopardizes the long-term survival of its population. The current Palestinian water supply is restricted and limited by Israel; Israel refuses to acknowledge Palestinian water rights and adherence to international laws on water. The differences in annual per capita water consumption between the two populations testify to such inequality: Israeli’s water consumption is four to six times per capita higher than the Palestinians.
This disparity may be compared with population ratios where Israelis and Israeli settlers number 6.4 million people. In contrast, Palestinians number some 3.9 million, and yet Israel uses 83% of Palestinian water in the West Bank, leaving only 17% to Palestinians. Water has been central, together with such issues as Jerusalem, final frontier placement, Israeli settlements, Palestinian refugees and security, in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations since the early 1990s. To date, only modest steps towards reconciling conflicting views have been taken. In the September 1995 Oslo II Agreement, Israel recognized Palestinian water rights, which should have been negotiated in the permanent status negotiations that were to begin in May 1996 and settled by May 1999, but have yet to begin.