Water in Israel: Overview of Israel-Palestinian Water Issue
Main Points of the Water Agreement
Implementation of the Agreement
December 2013 Agreement
Renewal of Cooperation
The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement of September 28, 1995, signed in Washington, including the
Water Agreement (Annex 3, Appendix 1, Article 40), clearly stipulates how the parties must act in the field of water in the West Bank. This agreement established the Joint Water Committee, which was initially meant only to function for five years but still exists.
This is an international agreement that was not only signed by Israel and the Palestinians but also witnessed by the United States, Russia, the European Union, Norway, Jordan, and Egypt.
Both parties are bound by the principles set forth in this agreement.
Following a meeting of the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee on March 4, 2015, Israel announced the doubling of water delivery to Gaza beginning in mid-2015. Israeli authorities decided to increase the amount of water sent to Palestinian territories from 5 million cubic meters per year to 10 million to combat the water crisis in the region. The Palestinian Authority pays Israel an estimated $3 million per year for their water, which constitutes less than 10% of the water consumed in the Palestinian territories.
On January 15, 2017, Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories (COGAT), Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai and the Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh signed an agreement to renew the Joint Water Committee’s activities under the 1995 Interim Agreement framework. Before the agreement, the Joint Water Committee made plans to reconvene after a 6-year hiatus to discuss increased water supplies to the Palestinian territories and the installation of new drinking water and sewage pipes.
A forum convened by E.U. countries and various aid organizations committed $559 million to projects to improve Gaza’s water situation in late March 2018. A large desalination facility was to be built with the funds, and Gaza’s pipelines and water storage facilities will also be updated.
Main points of the Water Agreement
- Palestinian Water Rights in the West Bank are recognized and shall be negotiated in the permanent status agreement.
- Both sides recognize the necessity to develop additional water sources for various uses.
- Maintaining the existing quantities of water utilization while considering the quantities of additional water for the Palestinians from the Eastern Aquifer.
- Future additional needs of the Palestinians in the West Bank are estimated to be between 70-80 MCM/year. Within this framework, both sides recognize the necessity to make available to the Palestinian (WB) during the interim period a total quantity of 23.6 MCM/year (out of which 5 MCM for the Gaza Strip).
- Each side shall take all necessary measures to prevent any harm, pollution, or deterioration of the water quality of all water resources.
- Both sides shall establish Joint Supervision and Enforcement Teams which shall operate, in the field, to monitor, supervise, and enforce the implementation of Article 40.
- To implement their undertakings, the two sides will establish a permanent Joint Water Committee (JWC).
Implementation of the Agreement
Israel fulfills its obligations according to the Water Agreement and beyond, as shown in the following:
- During the interim period of the Oslo talks, Israel made approximately 70 MCM/year of water available to the Palestinians in the West Bank even though the Water Agreement allocates a much smaller quantity of only 23.6 MCM/year.
- The Palestinian Authority consumes approximately 200 MCM of water every year. Israel supplies the Palestinians with 50 MCM of water, far beyond its obligation in the Water Agreement (31 MCM).
- Though Israel is often accused of “stealing” water or otherwise misallocating supplies to the disadvantage of the Palestinians, a study by Professor Haim Gvirtzman found “there is almost no difference in per capita consumption of natural water between Israelis and Palestinians.”
- Palestinians consume significantly more water than the minimum human needs defined by the World Health Organization.
- Palestinian farmers overwater their crops using outdated methods, wasting much water due to leakage and mismanagement.
- The Palestinians constantly breach the agreement by drilling more than 300 unauthorized wells in the West Bank.
- The Palestinians have illegally connected to Israeli water lines, which Gvirtzman says is “stealing Israel’s water.”
- The Palestinians do not treat 95 percent of their sewage, which flows freely in the streams and into Israel, contaminating the environment and the aquifer en route. In the West Bank, only one sewage plant was built in the previous 15 years.
- The Palestinians are not developing any new water sources through sewage treatment or desalination.
- Israel makes extensive use of recycled wastewater in agriculture; the Palestinians do not recycle
December 2013 Agreement
Senior Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian representatives signed a water sharing agreement in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on December 9, 2013, which was heralded as a milestone of cooperation between all parties involved. The agreement was made official at The World Bank Headquarters and was signed by H.E. Minister Silvan Shalom for Israel, H.E. Minister Hazim El-Naser for Jordan, and H.E. Minister Shaddad Attili for the Palestinian Authority. Within the MoU are three major regional water sharing initiatives that will support the management of scarce water resources in the region and contribute to developing and discovering new water resources. The agreement includes plans to construct an 80 million cubic meter seawater desalination plant in Aqaba on the Red Sea to provide water that will be shared between the three represented entities and also provides for increased water sales to Jordan from Israel’s lake Tiberias. The Red Sea-Dead Sea Conduit, also known as the Two Seas Canal, will carry water north from the Red Sea, hopefully slowing down the Dead Sea’s desiccation.
According to the agreement, some 200 million cubic meters of water will be pumped annually out of the Red Sea - 80 million will be desalinated at a special facility in Aqaba, Jordan; 30-50 million will be allocated to Israel for use in the Arava and Eilat; 30 million will go to Jordan for their southern region; and, approximately 32 million will be sold to the Palestinian Authority. Israeli Energy Minister Silvan Shalom, who represented Israel at the signing ceremony in Washington, called the arrangement "a historic agreement," adding it was a "dream come true."
In December 2016, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu announced to his Cabinet that the US,
the EU and Japan are financing this joint Israel-Jordan-Palestinian Authority project. According to Netanyahu's plan, the pipeline project would begin providing fresh water to communities in 2020.
Renewal of Cooperation
Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, head of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) office, and the Palestinian Authority’s Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh signed an agreement to restart the Israeli–Palestinian Joint Water Committee on January 15, 2017. The committee was created in 1995 as part of the Oslo II interim peace deal but was dormant for six years. Israel now agreed to provide better water access to Palestinian towns and villages and develop and modernize the water infrastructure in the West Bank. The two sides also agreed to explore new infrastructure projects to meet the expected demand as the Palestinian population grows.
In July 2017, the Israel Water Authority deployed a wastewater pipeline to Gaza. The 40 million NIS project allows sewage to flow from the Northern Gaza neighborhoods of Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanoun to the sewage treatment plant in Sderot.
Israel’s national water company Mekorot is constructing a new pipeline, the largest yet, which will increase the flow of drinkable water into Gaza. There are already three pipelines at three sites along the border. Israel committed to transferring 2.6 billion gallons of water each year to Gaza but has routinely provided even more -- 3 billion gallons.
In August 2022, Israel issued a permit for the Palestinian Water Authority to build a 19-mile (30 km.) pipeline to transport treated wastewater for agricultural use from the El Bireh Treatment Plant near Ramallah to Palestinian farmers in the Jericho Valley. This will solve the problem of untreated sewage polluting the Nahal Prat Nature Reserve and ensure the farmers have sufficient water for their crops.
“Agreements such as this will support the sustainability of the region and ensure these farmers do not become climate refugees,” said Arava Institute Executive Director Dr. Tareq Abu Hamed, who facilitated the negotiations for the pipeline.
Sources: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Haim Gvirtzman, “The Israeli-Palestinian Water Conflict: An Israeli Perspective,” The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, (2014).
Israel, Jordan, Close to Issuing Bid for Red Sea–Dead Sea Canal, Jewish Press, (November 5, 2015).
Netanyahu to Cabinet: ‘Working Overtime’ in Search of Amona Solution, Jewish Press, (December 4, 2016).
Elior Levy, "Water deal reached between Israel and Palestinians," YNet News, (January 15, 2017).
Israelis, Palestinians sign deal to jointly improve West Bank water supply, Times of Israel, ( January 15, 2017).
Fake News: Greenblatt Announces Israel Will Include PA in Water Project It Is Already On, Jewish Press, (July 12, 2017).
Israel builds pipeline to absorb sewage from Gaza, YNet News, (July 28, 2017).
“Israel lays fourth water pipeline to Gaza, the largest yet,” Times of Israel, (June 17, 2019).
“Israel, PA partner to transport water to Palestinian farmers in the Jordan Valley,” Jerusalem Post, (August 17, 2022).