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Water: Facts about Israeli and Palestinian Use, Agreements

Israel is in full compliance with the terms for water use and supply as outlined in the Oslo II peace process and delineated in the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement. In fact, Israel provides 30 percent more water to the Palestinians than required, with the total amount of water available to them exceeding agreed-upon terms.

When Israel first gained control of the West Bank in 1967, just four of the 708 Palestinian towns and villages could access running water. Now, 641 of those areas – and more than 96 percent of the Palestinian population – have access to running water. Israel’s network of pipes boosted water supply for Palestinians from 64 million cubic meters (MCM) per year to 120 MCM per year. Despite Palestinian claims, there is almost no difference in the amount of water Israelis and Palestinians use. As of 2012, per capita water use is 150 MCM for Israelis and 140 MCM for Palestinians.

The Palestinians have mismanaged their water supply, with water losses in the Palestinian network amounting to 33 percent of total water resources. The Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) has failed to upgrade its system and use resources provided to them, ranging from wells authorized by Israel to international assistance.

The PWA also has failed to construct enough water treatment facilities; as a result, 63 percent of its wastewater flows untreated into streams and the West Bank countryside. The wastewater could be treated and reused for agricultural purposes to free up fresh water supplies for human consumption, as done in Israel.

Despite international donations for this purpose, the PWA is not moving forward on its its water treatment projects. Instead, it allows the continuation of a system in which the untreated effluent pollutes the environment and contaminates the wells and aquifers of the West Bank.

The PWA fails to treat 94 percent of the wastewater produced by Palestinian towns and village; by comparison, Israel recycles about 75 percent of its wastewater, primarily for agricultural uses.

If the Palestinians were to enact measures to prevent water losses, reuse treated water and utilize the Eastern Aquifer, problems of water access and distribution could be greatly eased.

The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, signed in September 1995, stipulated that Israel’s future water supply to the Palestinians would be 70-80 MCM per year, in addition to the 118 MCM they were using at the time they signed the agreement. The accord over water resources was to have lasted five years. However, both Israel and the Palestinians have continued to work within the parameters of the agreement.

At present, 96 percent of West Bank Palestinians have daily access to running water, whereas in neighboring countries such as Jordan, most towns don’t have such access.

Inefficiencies and violations in the Palestinian water network:

  • As of 2012, Israel has approved the drilling of 71 wells for drinking and agricultural uses, as well as 22 observation wells. But the Palestinian Water Authority has yet to drill about half of them.
  • All water wells have to be approved by the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee (JWC). However, Palestinians have dug over 250 wells in violation of the 1995 agreement. The PA has supported such violations by connecting the unapproved wells to the electricity network.
  • The Palestinians illegally siphon water from the Israeli water provider, Mekorot, which supplies both Israelis and Palestinians. For this reason, there are water shortages in Hebron, Bani Naim, Beita and other Palestinian villages and communities.
  • The Palestinians have not developed the Eastern Aquifer despite the fact that the JWC has approved every request to drill wells in it.

Palestinian failure to build sewage facilities and ensuing problems:

  • The Water Works Committee of the JWC approved laying hundreds of kilometers of water pipes throughout the West Bank and the construction of dozens of storage reservoirs and pumping stations.[19]
  • The Palestinians have failed to construct sewage treatment facilities as required of them in the Interim Agreement due to mismanagement, poor maintenance, hydrological errors and engineering mistakes. This has led to polluted water supplies and environmental degradation. For example, the Hebron stream, which flows toward the Be’er Sheva Valley, has now become polluted and nearby Palestinian and Israeli communities suffer from polluted water, bad odors, flies and mosquitoes. The Nablus stream which flows westward is also now polluted. The westward flow of this stream pollutes water inside Israel.
  • Many other streams have effectively become wastewater channels for Palestinian towns and cities and the untreated water subsequently pollutes the Mountain Aquifer which then affects water drawn from wells. This has led to the contamination and closure of a number of wells in the Bethlehem district, the Jerusalem district and some in the Jordan Valley as well.
  • Of all the wastewater that emanates from the West Bank, about 27 percent comes from the Israeli population and 73 percent from the Palestinian population.
  • Israel’s use of treated wastewater, its desalination activities, measures to reduce water losses in the water system and other water-saving procedures add 800 MCM per year to its water supply, amounting to 33 percent of Israel’s total water usage.
  • According to a report by the European Commission, Israel uses more treated wastewater effluents (on a percentage basis) per capita for agricultural irrigation and wastewater than any other country in the world. Israel is also second in overall wastewater reuse after California.

The devastating truth about water and Palestinian statehood 


LAST UPDATED: 08/28/2011 22:21

Documents prove PA claims are all wet. 
By Thinkstock/Imagebank

On June 15, 2011 The Jerusalem Post published an article about the Palestinian water crisis, written by the head of the Palestinian Water Authority, Dr. Shaddad Atilli.
In his article, Atilli wrote that Israel’s ‘discriminatory policies’ are to blame for the lack of water in Palestinian society. He claimed that Israel uses the Joint Israeli Palestinian Water Committee (JWC) to veto and delay Palestinian water projects. He also wrote that Israel illegally exploits 90% of the shared water sources.
Furthermore, he claimed that because of the Israeli theft of water and the destruction of water wells and treatment plants, people realize that the two-state solution is rapidly fading.
His libelous article, full of distortions, outright lies and false accusations, was yet another proof of the PA’s intransigence.
Recently our organization, Missing Peace, obtained authentic papers documenting meetings of the Joint Israeli Palestinian Water Committee (JWC), and correspondence between Colonel Avi Shalev, head of the International relations branch of COGAT, and Dr.Atilli. These documents paint an entirely different picture.
Contrary to Atilli’s outrageous accusations, the Palestinian Authority has been sabotaging the two-state solution by preventing the development of an independent water infrastructure for the future Palestinian state.
Let’s examine some of the claims in Atilli’s article and compare them with the picture that emerges from the JWC and COGAT documents.
‘Israel delayed and vetoed Palestinian water projects,’ says Atilli.
First of all, article 40 (14) in the Oslo Accords clearly states that all JWC decisions about water projects in the West Bank need mutual agreement.
Once approved, JWC projects for the territories under Palestinian control (Areas A and B) do not need any further Israeli involvement.
Projects in Area C, where Israel is in control, need approval from the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA).
Since 2000 the PWA submitted 76 requests for permits to the office of the Civil Administration.
Subsequently 73 permits were issued by ICA and three denied because there was no master plan.
In a letter of June 8 2009, Shalev responded to Atilli’s complaint that ICA did not honor a PWA request to issue 12 of these permits. Shalev wrote that these permits had already been issued in 2001, and that ICA wondered why the PWA did not execute these projects.
Another 44 JWC-approved projects, the majority in Areas A and B, like the construction of a waste water treatment plant (WWTP) in Jenin that received approval in 2008 - have not been implemented. The German government even withdraw a plan to build a WWTP in Tulkarm when it concluded that the PWA could not handle the project.
When, back in November 2009, the PWA complained about a lack of funds, the Israeli government offered to finance water projects for Palestinian communities. The PA has yet to respond to this offer.

‘Israel allocates only 10% of the shared water sources to the Palestinians’ claims Atilli.

The water quota for the West Bank were mutually agreed upon in the Oslo Accords. As a result, 33% of the water in the aquifers under the West Bank is allocated to the Palestinians.

In 1993 the Palestinians could pump up 117 million cubic meters and Israel would provide an additional 31 million. In 2007 200 million cubic meters were allocated to the PA, of which Israel provided 51.8 million.

However, of those 200 million cubic meters, only 180 million were actually used.

The main reason for this is that the PWA did not implement projects in the Eastern aquifer that would have solved much of the Palestinian water crisis. More than half of the wells approved for exploitation of the Eastern aquifer have still not been drilled. The permits were issued in 2000.

In a letter written on April 4, 2001, the civil administration urged the PWA to execute these projects. A letter from June 8 2009 repeated that request.

Atilli also lied about Palestinian water consumption. In the JPost article he claimed that Palestinians are ‘limited to an average of just 60 liters.’ However, in 2009 his own PWA published a report that mentioned an average supply of 110 liters per capita per day.

Atilli’s level of chutzpa is best shown by his third claim, about Israel stealing water and destroying Palestinian water projects. In fact, Palestinians steal millions of cubic meters of water per year by drilling illegal holes into the water pipes of the Israeli water provider Mekorot. The Civil Authority fixes 600 of these illegal taps each year.

Furthermore, since 2008 Israel has asked the PA to re-establish the joint JSET water patrols that fought water theft before the El Aksa intifada.

The PA has refused.

Another reason for the loss of water is the poor maintenance of the Palestinian water infrastructure. A staggering 33% of the fresh water supply gets lost because of leaks, theft and poor maintenance.

Other documents provided solid evidence that the closing of 250 illegal wells was agreed upon in the JWC meetings. For example, minutes of the JWC meeting on November 13, 2007 show a consensus decision to destroy ‘illegal drillings and connections.’ Nevertheless, Atilli acted as if he never attended these meetings or co-signed the joint decisions.

He even had the gall to write urgent appeals to the international community as soon as ICA, after numerous appeals to the PWA to follow up on the agreed closure of illegal wells, finally closed those wells.

These are only few examples of the shocking way the Palestinian Authority neglected the basic needs of its citizens and cynically uses water as a weapon in a PR campaign against Israel. It shows that, contrary to reports dealing with progress in state building, the PA is far from ready for statehood.

There is, however, yet another conclusion to be drawn here.

The stubborn refusal to work with Israel on mutual interests like improvement of the water infrastructure, and the way the PA subsequently uses that lack of improvement to demonize Israel, prove that the PA is not interested in the two-state solution, or peace.

In fact, the bid for UN recognition of a state without a peace agreement, and the way the PA deals with Israel regarding water are part of the same campaign. The goal of that campaign is, as Mahmoud Abbas pointed out in his infamous NYT op-ed, the continuation of the conflict by different means.

By now it has become clear that the use of water as weapon is one of those means.

Yochanan Visser is Director Missing Peace Information (an Israel-based PD organization operating in Belgium and the Netherlands), and publicist for the Dutch papers De Volkskrant, Het Vrije Volk and De Dagelijkse Standaard. www.missingpeace.eu 

Sharon Shaked is the Middle East Expert in Missing Peace. She holds a BA in Middle East and Islamic studies from Hebrew University.

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The Civil Administration's Water Department: Progress Report on Water in the West Bank