It comes back again and again: The canard that Israel is denying West Bank
Palestinians water rights negotiated under the Oslo Accords.Haaretz
returns to the issue every once in a while with stories about water supply
disruptions in the Palestinian Authority, Israeli confiscation of Palestinian
water tanks in the Jordan Valley, or Palestinian Water Authority reports about
“disproportionate” water allocations to settlements.
You have to read the
fine print to discover that illegal Palestinian tapping into Israel’s water
lines and massive Palestinian water wastage are the causes of the problem. You
have to study the issue in depth to discover that it is not Israeli “occupation
policy” but Palestinian political resistance against joint water management and
cooperation that is responsible for the slow development of the Palestinian
water sector. The PA considers water and waste as weapons against Israel, not as
areas of cooperation with Israel.
For too long, Israel has failed to
respond in detail to Palestinian accusations of Israeli “water apartheid” which
are ubiquitous in the UN and NGO world. Only recently has the civil
administration and the Israel Water Authority, along with one of Israel’s top
hydrologists, Prof. Haim Gvirtzman, begun to fight back with properly documented
The newly released studies show clearly that that Israel
has fulfilled all of its obligations according to the agreements it signed in
1995 with the Palestinian Authority (and in fact has exceeded them), while the
Palestinians are wasting tremendous amounts of water while refusing to utilize
modern water conservation or sewage treatment methods.
In an exceptional
published by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Gvirtzman
shows that large differences in per capita consumption of natural water between
Jews and Arabs that existed in 1967, when the administration of Judea and
Samaria was handed over from Jordan to Israel, have been reduced over the last
40 years and are now negligible.
He thoroughly refutes Palestinian
accusations of inequitable and discriminatory Israeli water policies.
Palestinian Authority consumes 200 million cubic meters of water every year,
with Israel providing more than 50 m.c.m. of this – which, under the Accords, is
more than Israel it supposed to provide a full-fledged Palestinian state under a
Nevertheless, the Palestinian Authority claims
that it suffers from water shortages in its towns and villages due to the
Israeli occupation and it cites international law in support of its claims.
These claims grandiosely amount to more than 700 m.c.m. of water per year,
including rights over the groundwater reservoir of the Mountain Aquifer, the
Gaza Strip Coastal Aquifer and the Jordan River. These inflated demands amount
to more than 50 percent of the total natural water available between the
Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
But Gvirtzman, of the Institute
of Earth Sciences at the Hebrew University (who has for years been part of the
Israeli team for water coordination with the PA), demonstrates that the current
division of natural fresh water resources between Israel and the Palestinians is
fair. Israel’s population stands at 7.2 million, five times the actual West Bank
Palestinian population of 1.4 million. Proportionately, Israel controls 1,200
m.c.m. of the available natural fresh water, and the PA 220 m.c.m. In per capita
terms, this works out to about 160 metric cubes of water per person per annum in
both Israel and the PA.
As for settler water use, well, Israel sends into
the West Bank for Palestinian usage far more water than settler communities
Statistics released by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics
and the Palestinian Water Authority for World Water Day this past March,
according to Gvirtzman, are fabricated.
Straight-out lies. In complete
contradiction of the PA’s concocted data, Gvirtzman shows that every Israeli
citizen pays more for his or her water – in order to subsidize Israel’s sale of
water to the Palestinians at discount prices. In fact, residents of Ariel and
Ma’aleh Adumim (not to mention Tel Aviv and Haifa) pay twice as much for their
water as residents of Nablus and Ramallah pay for their water – if the latter
bother to pay anything at all.
But most of all, Gvirtzman’s BESA Center
report accuses the PA of doing almost nothing to preventing massive leaking in
its domestic pipelines; almost nothing to implement modern water conservation
techniques; and nothing to recycle sewage water for irrigation.
many Palestinian farmers routinely overwater their crops through old-fashioned,
wasteful flooding methods. Generally, they don’t pay their own water bills, so
they don’t care to conserve. (The PA uses international donor money to pay for
this waste.) Moreover, at least one-third of the water being pumped out of the
ground by the Palestinians is wasted through leakage and mismanagement – by the
Palestinian Water Authority’s own estimates.
The PA euphemistically calls
this “unaccounted for water.”
Worse still, no recycling of water takes
place in the Palestinian Authority and no treated water is used for agriculture.
By contrast, in Israel about half of all agriculture is sustained by treated
waste water. In fact, Israel’s use of treated waste water, its desalination
activities, and its measures to reduce water losses in the water system add 800
m.c.m. per year to its water supply, amounting to one-third of Israel’s total
At the same time, 95 percent of the 56 m.c.m. per year of
sewage produced by the Palestinians is not treated at all. Palestinian sewage
flows untreated into the streams and valleys of the West Bank, and infiltrates
into the Mountain Aquifer, polluting it for Jews and Arabs alike. Some 17 m.c.m.
per year of raw Palestinian sewage flows into (pre-67) Israel too.
one sewage plant has been built in the West Bank in the past 15 years, despite
there being a $500 million international donor fund available to the
Palestinians for this purpose, and despite the fact that Israel has practically
begged the PA to build these sewage plants. Only very recently did the PA agree
to accept World Bank funding for wastewater treatment plants in Hebron and
Even when Israel builds a sewage pipeline, like the Wadi Kana
trunk line to collect waste water from several communities in the Kalkilya
district and treat the sewage in Israel, the PA declines to cooperate. It has
not connected the 11 Palestinian towns in the area to this new sewage
“The Palestinians generally refuse to build sewage treatment
plants,” Gvirtzman says. “The ugly truth behind all the anti-Israel propaganda
is that PA is neither judicious nor neighborly in its water usage and sewage
Unfortunately, the international community has allowed the
PA to get away with this hostile behavior; to continue its strategy of
noncooperation with Israel; to flout all logical standards of professional
With Israel’s mega-water desalinization plants coming online,
Israel will soon have more than enough water for its own needs as well as
sufficient water for sale to the PA. “But first, the PA needs to become a
responsible actor,” says Gvirtzman. “It must prevent water wastage, collect real
fees from its citizens for water usage, and deal professionally with its sewage.
It must also stop stealing from Israel’s wells and pipelines, while running
around the world falsely accusing Israel of stealing Palestinian
Indeed, the PA has violated its water agreements with Israel
by drilling over 250 unauthorized wells, which draw about 15 m.c.m. a year of
water, and by connecting these pirate wells to its electricity
Moreover, the PA has illegally and surreptitiously connected itself
in many places to the water lines of Israel’s Mekorot national water company –
stealing Israel’s water. (That’s why the civil administration recently
confiscated some PA water tanks in the Jordan Valley.) The civil administration
that the PA has barely begun to tap into the Eastern Aquifer in the
West Bank (which was allocated to PA use by accord with Israel), from which it
could produce another 60 m.c.m. per year. The Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water
Committee has approved the drilling of 70 water wells by the PA for this
purpose, yet more than half of the approved wells have not yet been drilled.
This would put a grand total of 260 m.c.m. of water per year at the disposal of
The Palestinians also have rejected on political grounds a
proposal which would have created a water desalination plant in Gaza
specifically to meet Palestinian needs. The US had set aside $250m. for the
project, which again could have yielded a huge increase in the amount of
available water for the Palestinians.
But hey – it’s much easier to steal
water from Israel and simultaneously complain that Israel is drying out West
Which leaves us with the following question for John
Kerry and the international community that is so earnestly trying to impress
upon Israel the necessity of establishing a Palestinian state: Can you guarantee
us that your much-touted Palestinian state will be any more responsible than the
Palestinian Authority has been in cooperating with Israel in so many vital
civilian areas, such as water and waste management? Or, might Israel have reason
for concern that a Palestinian state will be even more nasty and belligerent?
The writer is director of public affairs at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic
Studies and blogs at www.davidmweinberg.com.