Palestinian government bodies slammed Israel for restricting access to water resources and denying them new water wells, in addition to allegedly reneging on an international water agreement.

The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) and the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) jointly timed these claims for World Water Day, which was marked on Friday.

While Israel controls the majority of the shared renewable water resources of 750 million cubic meters annually, the Palestinians only receive 120 m.cu.m., the PCBS and PWA said. Blaming Israel for the Palestinian water shortage, the authorities blasted their neighbor for providing 75 m.cu.m. of water each year to its settlements, of which 44 m.cu.m. comes from wells controlled by Israel in the West Bank, according to authorities.

“The situation of water in Palestine differs from other countries due to the presence of the Israeli occupation that controls all water resources and denies Palestinians their water rights stipulated in Oslo Agreement II of 1995,” the Palestinian Authority organs’ said.

Although water is priced at NIS 2.7 per cu.m. in the West Bank and NIS 2.4 per cu.m. in Gaza, households not connected to the national water supply must pay much higher prices to private tanker suppliers, the report said. Approximately 91.8 percent of houses in Palestinian areas are connected to the water network, with 89.4% of Palestinian housing units in the West Bank connected, and 96.3% in Gaza. The remainder of the houses, which are not connected to the water supply, must pay up to NIS 24.40 per cu.m. for their water, they said.

“These sources of supply are extremely expensive and there is no guarantee of the quality of water provided,” the groups said.

Water and sewage in the West Bank is regulated by Article 40 of the Oslo II Accords, an interim agreement that was signed by Israel and the PLO in September 1995. In addition to establishing a Joint Water Committee with equal representation from both sides, the agreement stipulates the division of the mountain aquifer and the mode of management for each of the parties until a final settlement is reached, the Israel Water Authority explained.

“The State of Israel meets all its obligations under the agreement and among other things even supplies the Palestinians with 22 m.cu.m. beyond its obligations and at a special price,” the Israel Water Authority said.

The PCBS and the PWA argued, on the other hand, that Israel was not sharing the major water basins in the region and was not accounting for “future needs” of water, which have grown since the signing of the Oslo II agreement.

The Israel Water Authority said, however, that Israel more than complies with its obligations under the agreement, and it is the PA that does not. Palestinians have drilled a vast array of wells without the required approval of the Joint Water Committee – with about 300 such wells known to the Israeli contingent. In addition, the PA largely does not treat its waste-water, and the Palestinian sewage is penetrating and polluting the groundwater, the Israel Water Authority said.

The data provided by the PCBS and the PWA is simply inaccurate, it stressed. Rather than containing 750 m.cu.m. as claimed, there are 680 m.cu.m. of water in the shared aquifer. Oslo II provides the Palestinians with 196 m.cu.m. of this water, as well as an additional 31 m.cu.m. for sale at a special price, the Water Authority said.

Although the State of Israel brings in about 63 m.cu.m. of water from within the Green Line to Judea and Samaria annually, the Jewish settlements in the West Bank only consume about 49 m.cu.m. of that, the Water Authority stressed.

Tariffs charged by the PA for water are much lower than Israeli rates. Residents of the West Bank cities of Ariel and Ma’aleh Adumim, for example, pay nearly double the prices that Palestinians do, the Water Authority said.

While the Palestinian WAFA news agency reported that 91.8% of Palestinians are connected to the national water system, Israeli Water Authority officials said that the number is actually 95.2% according to data released to them by the PWA. For the sake of comparison, only about 10% of the Palestinian population was connected to the water system in 1967, then under Jordanian control, the Water Authority said.

“The division of water and sewage prices with the Palestinian Authority is the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority and its management,” the Israeli Water Authority added.

Regardless of who is to blame for water shortages, one water expert stressed that the area west of the Jordan River has one water system.

“The drops of water, exactly like birds, don’t know any borders,” said Prof. Eliyahu Rosenthal, a hydrogeologist and hydrogeochemist from Tel Aviv University’s Porter School for Environmental Studies and geophysical, atmospheric and planetary sciences department. “Water flows across borders.”

“Who has more rights? Those who are the upstream riparians or the downstream riparians?” asked Rosenthal, who was involved in the 1995 water negotiations. Rather than arguing over exact numbers, more partnership concerning the water resources is needed from both sides, he said.

“The thing is what is absolutely needed is complete cooperation in development and management of common water resources,” he said. “There is no way out of it.”

About 20 or 25 years ago, Palestinian water resources began undergoing natural salinization because of rising brines (salty water), something that Rosenthal said he alerted his Palestinian colleagues to after monitoring water chemistry there. It took some time, however, before the Palestinian authorities began managing the situation properly.

Tight cooperation and common research ventures are therefore critical, Rosenthal said.

Friends of the Earth Middle East, an environmental NGO with staff in Israel, the PA and Jordan, responded to the Palestinian allegations by saying that now is the time to move forward with Israeli-Palestinian water negotiations, particularly in light of US President Barack Obama’s visit to the region. “We believe that the issue of water can no longer and need not wait,” the organization said.

“Under the interim water arrangements of 1995 Palestinians fail to receive an equitable share of shared waters while the management structure created under Oslo fails to advance sustainable water management practices. Moving forward on a final agreement on water can no less importantly build the needed trust to help move forward on all other peace process issues,” the NGO said.

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