Chapter Three: The Israeli-Palestinian Water Accords

Table of Contents

The negotiations set out in the Madrid peace conference have been remarkably successful in bringing the parties together face to face for the first time to try to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Up until this point, no other negotiation structure had brought the Palestinians and the Israelis together in such a way as to work on the political issues of the conflict through bilateral negotiations, while also working to promote trust by specifically focusing on regional issues and their accompanying technical aspects through a multilateral negotiation track. With the help of international support both as facilitators of the peace talks and through financial aid, four years of negotiations had led to unprecedented contact between these two groups, and ultimately to a series of agreements laying out a framework for Palestinian self-government while ensuring Israel’s security concerns.  

By 1995, the peace talks had moved the Israelis and the Palestinians closer together in their positions over water than ever before. On August 24th, the Israelis formally recognized Palestinian water rights in the West Bank [1] Faced with media coverage of the unequal distribution of water in the West Bank, Israel increased water allocation to the Palestinians and also expressed its commitment to help find new sources of water for them. These developments were a breakthrough in the process of moving towards common ground over the issue of water. Israeli Water Commissioner Gideon Tsur remarked at this time, “…a year and a half ago, nobody dreamed of giving them [Palestinians] what we are prepared to give them today. When we started the talks, we thought that to discuss water rights was out of the question.” [2] With new pressure by both the Rabin government and the Clinton administration to move forward to the next stage of the peace process, and after much delay and many missed deadlines, both sides signed the Oslo II agreement in Taba on September 28, 1995.

Building off the Declaration of Principles signed two years earlier, the Oslo II agreement marked a major step towards Palestinian self-government. According to the agreement, Israel would withdraw from 456 Palestinian cities while administrative authority for six main West Bank towns would be transferred to the Palestinians through an election process. The Palestinian Authority in turn would act to stop all anti-Israeli violence from its own population and the PLO would change their covenant which had called the establishment of Israel illegal and for the liberation of Palestine. [3]

The water component of Oslo II is elaborated in Article 40. With the Madrid conference marking a milestone for moving the Middle East peace process into a new phase, Article 40 of the Israeli-Palestinian interim agreement is equally groundbreaking in its interim solution for managing the shared water resources between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Both the water principles and the institutional mechanisms created to manage West Bank water resources in the water accords illustrate a monumental step by both parties towards cooperation over their shared water resources. The 16 pages making up the water accords have been the roadmap for relations between the Palestinians and Israelis on how to work together over water up until the present. This chapter focuses on the implementation process of the water accords by examining what aspects of the agreement have worked and what aspects have posed difficulties. Certain elements of the water accords have proved to be successful, namely the Palestinian Water Authority, the Joint Supervision and Enforcement Teams and the support of the international community through Foreign Aid. However, one of the principle problems is that the joint water management structure has continued to reinforce the power imbalance between Israel and the Palestinians. The final status agreement must find a way to mitigate this power imbalance. With the permanent status talks between Israel and the Palestinians currently on track, finding an acceptable permanent institutional water management structure which will satisfy the needs and concerns of both parties will be an integral part of the broader peace process.

Principles of the Water Accords

The single most significant element of the water accords is the first line in the document, which states that “Israel recognizes the Palestinian water rights in the West Bank.” [4] The issue of water rights had been a continual source of conflict from the outset of the peace talks. For several years, the Israeli position had been adamantly against discussing the issue of Palestinian water rights during the interim agreement talks. The issue nearly caused the Palestinians to boycott the intersessional activities sponsored by the working group on water. With the taboo of discussing water rights broken by Avraham Katz-Oz in the working group on water the year before, and compelled by the desire for a peace agreement both by Rabin and Clinton, Israel conceded in its position to discuss and ultimately recognize Palestinian water rights with the stipulation that the details would be negotiated in the permanent status talks. By acknowledging Palestinian water rights while putting off a final definition of these rights to a later stage of the peace process, the agreement served the interests of both parties.

The water accords made a major step towards greater Palestinian self-government by handing over the responsibility of water resources of nearly all of the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank from Israel to the Palestinians. Building off the Declaration of Principles two years earlier, which provided Palestinian rule in Gaza and Jericho, and the Cairo agreement eight months earlier, which granted Palestinians the authority to manage the development of water resources for both regions, the water accords called for complete transfer of the water and sewage systems in the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians. The sole exception is for water to the Israeli settlements and a military installation area which will continue to be the responsibility of Israel. [5] Similar to the provisions about Palestinian water rights, the water accords called for the Palestinians to assume responsibility for their own sewage and water resources in the West Bank, with the issue of ownership of the related infrastructure to be negotiated in the permanent status talks. In this way, the agreement created a compromise by handing over complete control of water resources to the Palestinians in one area (Gaza Strip) and ceding partial control but not ownership of water resources in a second area (West Bank).

Lastly, the water accords created an important foundation by setting out principles for managing water resources, defining the existing extractions of the Eastern, Northeastern and Western aquifers, and delineating the responsibilities and the commitments of each party to provide additional water to the Palestinians in the West Bank. [6] Although a discussion of the principles of customary international water law is beyond the scope of this paper, it should be pointed out that the water accords embraced the principle of commitment to prevent harm of water resources, which is one of the main principles in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourse adopted by the General Assembly in 1997. [7] A second principle in the water accords, sustainable use of water resources, draws from the principle of equitable utilization, which is part of the UN convention and the Helsinki Principles on the Use of Waters of International Rivers adopted by the International Law Association in 1966. By adopting generally recognized water management principles from international water law, agreeing on the amount of water available from the Central Highland Aquifer, and setting out a detailed commitment for both parties to provide additional water to the Palestinians, the agreement provided a platform from which to build the institutional structure for managing the water resources between Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank.

Institutions created by the Water Accords

To implement the principles described above, Article 40 broke new ground through its creation of joint water management mechanisms. This section will look at the two principle institutional structures created by the water accords, the Joint Water Committee (JWC) and the Joints Supervisions and Enforcement Mechanisms (JSETs). The main function of the JWC is to handle all water and sewage related issues in the West Bank. The JWC is to be composed of an equal number of representatives from Israel and the Palestinian Authority with agreement to be reached by consensus on all matters. Its primary responsibilities include coordinated management of water resources, exchange of information relating to water and sewage laws, resolution of water disputes, and arrangement for water supply from one side to another. Specifically, all development of new water resources, including licensing and drilling of new wells, must first be approved by the JWC.

The second institutional structure created in the water accords is the Joint Supervision and Enforcement Teams (JSETs) for the West Bank. The JSETs are to be composed of 5 teams with at least two representatives from each side to monitor, supervise and enforce the implementation of Article 40. Its responsibilities include monitoring connections to the supply systems, the drilling of new wells, development of new water supply projects and prevention of contamination of water resources. In a sense, the JSETs are the equivalent of “water enforcers” roving the area to make sure that the new water accords are being followed by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The water accords set out in Article 40 are the first real step towards institutionalizing a system for the two groups to work together over water. By creating a joint management institution, the accords ushered in a new structure of relations between the Israelis and the Palestinians and also with the international community. Not only have both sides agreed to try work peacefully together rather than pursue unilateral objectives to manage their water, the interim agreement created the institutional structure which could be engaged by the international community for financial and diplomatic support.

Implementation of the Water Accords

One of the most important developments growing out of the water accords is the creation of the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA). Formally established shortly before the signing of the interim agreement in April of 1995, the PWA is responsible for the development and management of all Palestinian water resources including the implementation of water projects with the help of foreign assistance. [8] In the process of moving closer toward self-rule, the Palestinians literally created an institution where none existed before. It is the principle institution working with Israel to implement Article 40 of the interim agreement.

The PWA’s top priority is to implement as many water-development projects as it can get approved by the JWC in order to increase the water supply to the Palestinian people. [9] To facilitate this goal, it has developed a water policy which has as its guiding rule that water is public property. Water rights in the future Palestinian State, according to Fadil Qawash, the deputy chairman of the PWA, will refer to the rights to use but not to own water. [10] In such a water scarce region, the PWA has embraced the concept of water as an economic good that is to be regulated by the state. Although the relatively new institution is still building up its institutional capacity, it has emerged as a main Palestinian link for water issues both with the Israeli government through the JWC and with international governments and agencies who have provided technical and financial assistance for water resource development projects.

One aspect of the water accords that has proved to work relatively well has been the Joint Supervision and Enforcement Teams. The JSETs are in charge of daily inspections of water levels in wells, water quantity and monitoring the amount of water extractions. At first, the joint inspection teams got off to a shaky start. The Israeli inspection team, for example, refused to go on inspection tours with their Palestinian counterparts without the accompaniment of Israeli soldiers. [11] Over time, the two sides were able to work together, and by 1998 the joint inspections were running smoothly. The JSETs demonstrate that both parties are capable of working together to manage their shared water resources. 

Along with the positive developments of implementing Article 40, there have been several challenges. The Joint Water Committee in particular has proved to be a great source of frustration. As the umbrella institution for implementing the joint management structure for the water resources in the West Bank created by Article 40, one of the responsibilities of the JWC is to go over proposals for water projects and to issue permits for those projects that are approved. One of the main problems is that this process has become well known for being slow and overly complex. Permits are issued for each stage of individual projects and the process almost always takes several months. Rouyer notes, “…once a permit is issued to drill a well, others will then be needed to construct the road to get the equipment to the site, and for a building to house the workers drilling the well.” [12] The cumbersome permit process has hindered the ability to implement water resource development projects.

Related to the permit process, a principle complaint from the Palestinians about the JWC is that its structure has maintained a power imbalance. Ironically, the consensus based decision making process of the JWC laid out in the agreement has effectively given Israel “veto” power over Palestinian water projects. In theory, both sides have this same veto power for all projects coming before the JWC. However, since the water structure is already in place for Israeli settlements, almost all the water project proposals coming before the JWC are from the Palestinians. [13] Another functional impediment for the JWC has been the larger political process between the Israelis and the Palestinians. One member of the Palestinian Water Authority claimed that when things were going badly in the larger political process, meetings for the JWC would sometimes be postponed. Though, as of fall 1999, the situation had improved. [14] If the JWC or a similar structure is envisioned for a final peace treaty between the Israelis and the Palestinians, this structural component should be altered to provide a more equitable mechanism for making decisions about water projects in the West Bank.

Other incidents suggest that both sides are having difficulties working together to manage water and that trust between the two group is still shaky. The water shortage in Jenin is one example of these difficulties. In the agreement, Israel committed to drill an additional well for the Jenin area which would provide 1.4 mcm/year of water. During the period of transferring Jenin from Israel to the Palestinian Authority, dozens of illegal wells were dug by city residents. Israel discovered these wells through surveillance and they were then destroyed by the PA. Ultimately, the illegal wells were taken care of but this mishap started the transfer of Jenin and the subsequent water commitments off on the wrong foot. By 1996, Israel had dug a new well according to its commitments in Article 40. However, it did not supply pumps or pipeline for the well, making it unusable. With the help of USAID and UNDP, pipelines from the well to Jenin and surrounding villages were constructed. The well was now usable, but it still did not provide the amount of water it was intended to provide. A proposal for a second well was then put to the JWC but the Israelis rejected the offer. [15] In spite of the strong steps forward both in the development of the Palestinian Water Authority and the success implementing the JSETs, the situation in Jenin is a sign that both parties are still struggling to cooperate together over water resources. 

A second example has been the heated dispute over untreated wastewater in the West Bank. What is not in dispute is the fact that untreated sewage from both Palestinian and Jewish settlements has been seeping into the aquifer. However, both Israelis and Palestinians have accused each other of deliberately polluting the Central Highland or Mountain Aquifer. Israel’s Minister of National Infrastructure, Ariel Sharon, in 1997 claimed that the Palestinians were deliberately trying to obstruct the water accords, referring to the pollution from the Palestinian municipalities as “sewage intifada.” [16] The Palestinian Authority countered that Jewish settlements are just as guilty of polluting the water supply as the Israelis. Just as the nature of the problem is politicized, so is the solution. Stressing economic efficiency, Israeli planners have suggested using joint wastewater treatment plants to solve the problem. Toward this end, the German development agency pledged $8 million towards building a plant. However, the Palestinian Authority has been at odds with this solution, because from their perspective a joint treatment plant including Israeli settlements would be effectively recognizing their right to exist. Although Foreign Assistance aid can assist by providing the financial means to solve the problem, the two groups will first need to agree to work together to find possible solution to the pollution problem.

The Role of Foreign Assistance in Implementing the Water Accords

The Oslo II agreement not only brought the two parties together, it opened up an avenue  for foreign donors to assist with economic and social development in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Following the agreement, 29 states and organizations pledged $2.5 billion in aid, of which $365 million was specifically for water and sanitation projects. [17] To help channel the funds, two groups were formed, the Consultative Group and the Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee. The latter committee worked with the multilateral track of the peace process. A look at two of the major donors, the United States Agency for International Development and the United Nations Development Program, illustrates how essential foreign assistance is for implementing the water accords.   

The role of USAID in the implementation of the water accords is unique from the other international aid institutions.  As the main broker of the peace talks and as a member of the trilateral committee which provides American mediation to intractable water disputes, the United States through USAID is the only donor that gets involved with the work of the JWC. With a $58 million budget, USAID has made the water sector a central focus of its aid program to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Improving water quality is its primary goal for the Gaza Strip whereas increasing water supply is the main priority for the West Bank. The work has been contracted out to American construction firms such as Metcalf and Eddy, Camp, Dresser and McKee, and CH2M-Hill. For example, Camp, Dresser and McKee won a contract for a $35 million project to increase the water supply in Hebron and Bethlehem by an additional 6-8 mcm/yr.  In the Gaza Strip, Metcalf and Eddy operated a project to upgrade and reconstruct the entire sewer system such that it now runs into communities which previously had no sewage facility. According to USAID, improvements in the West Bank to the water distribution systems for 27 villages have already benefited 260,000 people. [18] By the year 2003, USAID expects water availability to increase in Bethlehem from 46 liters/person/day to 125 liters/person/day and in Hebron from 38 liters/person/day to 90 liters/person/day using the World Health Organization’s 100 liters/person/day as its standard. The UNDP has been working in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 1980 to improve economic and social conditions for Palestinians. However, before the Oslo agreements, their assistance remained on a small scale because there was no Palestinian institutional counterpart organization. With the creation of the Palestinian Water Authority, the agency and other donors now have a host organization to work with to formulate and implement development programs. [19] UNDP’s project expenditures for the region tripled from $15 million in 1992 to $50 million in 1996. Two years later, UNDP had allocated 19 percent of its budget for water projects, and had become the largest agency implementing water networks in rural areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Like all other agencies aside from USAID, UNDP does not get involved in the permit process of the JWC. Instead, it waits to commit funds until a permit has been issued. With a smaller funding base than USAID, UNDP’s projects range from $1-5 million and concentrate on providing water to villages or upgrading sections of a deteriorating urban water system. [20] UNDP has also distinguished its foreign assistance from that of USAID by emphasizing the development of institutional capacity. Towards this goal in the water sector, UNDP has launched the Water Resources Action Program (WRAP) which makes water specialists available to the Palestinian Authority.  It has also made a high priority of including the Palestinians in the implementation of water projects to spur employment, technical transfer and foreign investment.

The interim agreement, through the birth of the Palestinian Water Authority and with the creation of an institutional water resource management structure, provided the inroads for foreign assistance to aid in the implementation of Article 40. The massive support in the form of financing, technical expertise, and mediation are essential components of the implementation process. Foreign Aid not only provided the bricks and mortar for water resource projects; it has also aided in capacity building. Without this support, it is unlikely that both parties, and especially the Palestinians, would have the resources to implement the water accords on their own.  Some criticism of Foreign Aid has been leveled by Palestinian officials, particularly pointing to USAID’s heavy insistence of feasibility studies and that these projects have been serving American economic interests through its contracts for construction firms. [21] Although these firms are benefiting from the Oslo II agreement, they are also clearly providing major improvements to the water sector in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. 

Analysis of the Implementation of the Water Accords

The last four and a half years have ushered in a dramatic change in relations between the Israelis and the Palestinians over the management of their common water resources. After decades of hostility and unilateral water resource development, the water accords of Oslo II laid out water management principles and created a completely new institutional structure for the parties to begin to work together. The implementation of this agreement has led to unprecedented cooperation between the two parties and water resource development. Three elements stand out as the most positive achievements of the implementation process: the Palestinian Water Authority, the role of Foreign Aid and the Joint Supervision and Enforcement Teams.

The birth and development of the Palestinian Water Authority has provided a much needed institutional interface for the planning and management of water resources now under the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority. From its beginning, the PWA has advocated for progressive water policies such as water pricing and the importance of public participation in local planning. As this institution continues to develop institutional capacity, it will be able to engage the Israelis with more sure footing about future concerns over protecting their shared water resources. 

The ability of the Israelis and the Palestinians to work together in the Joint Supervision and Enforcement Teams is a milestone for joint water resource management between the two parties. Farther removed from the politics of the larger peace process, the JSETs show that it is possible for the two sides to work together over water. It is at this mid-level of institutional management that working relationships can take root.

Lastly, Foreign Aid has been an integral part of the implementation process. The strong support from governments and international organizations of the water accords has ensured that both parties have had the resources necessary to carry out the agreement. Without this financial, diplomatic and technical aid, it is nearly certain that the two groups would not have been able to implement the agreement on their own.

In spite of these groundbreaking achievements in implementing the water accords, one of the problems of the current institutional arrangement is that it has effectively reinforced the power imbalance which still remains between the Israelis and the Palestinians. This imbalance is evident in the implementation process of the water accords and the ongoing water disparities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Although Shmuel Cantor, the Israeli co-director of the technical subcommittee of the JWC, has viewed the work of the Joint Water Committee and the permit process as being very effective, the Palestinians working within the PWA have voiced strong frustrations about the rate of progress being made. [22] In principle, a consensus-based approach appears the most equitable way to make group decisions. However, in practice, this approach in the JWC permit process has given Israel a veto on Palestinian water projects. In a situation where one side has more needs than another, as in the case of the West Bank, the veto power of one party using a consensus-based approach has very uneven consequences.

On the ground, the Palestinians point out that Israeli settlements’ access to water continues to be subsidized, whereas Palestinians who get their water from Mekorot, Israel’s national water authority, must pay the commercial rate.  Moreover, although Foreign Aid is helping to improve the water and sanitation condition in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the overall environmental situation is dire. Nearly all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip still do not have access to the recommended standard of 100 liters/day for domestic consumption. Furthermore, only 25% of households are connected to a sewage network. [23] The situation in the Gaza Strip is the most severe. Over 1500 illegal wells have been dug since the Gaza Strip came under the authority of the PA. As Rouyer notes, “Most Israeli and PA officials recognize that any long-term solution to Gaza’s water problem must come from outside the territory in the form of transfers from either the West Bank, Israel and perhaps Turkey.” [24] The disparity between the access to water and sanitation for Palestinians compared to the Israeli settlements in the West Bank along with massive problems in the Gaza Strip indicates that both sides are clearly not on equal playing fields.

Political Analysis: New Hope from Netanyahu to Barak

The broader political landscape plays a pivotal role in understanding the implementation of the water accords. The Oslo II agreement was signed by an Israeli government led by Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres who were committed to a land-for-peace agreement. [25] When Rabin was assassinated in November 1995, Peres became Prime Minister. However, escalating violence including suicide bombings in Israel the following February and March prompted the Israeli public to vote in the right wing Binyamin Netanyahu of the Likud Party.

Netanyahu was a known critic of the Declaration of Principles and the Oslo II agreement. Within months of becoming Prime Minister, Netanyahu authorized the opening of a second entrance to a tunnel in the Old City of Jerusalem which was near Muslim holy sites. This produced the worst Palestinian-Israeli violence since the 1967 war. [26] The following year, Netanyahu’s expansion of Jewish settlements in Arab East Jerusalem also caused more violence. Israel’s speaker of Parliament, Avraham Burg said of him, “Under Netanyahu, if we didn’t wake up to 26 crises, 5 police investigations and 2 scoops an hour, it was not a day.” [27]

Until recently, it was under this political climate that the water accords have been implemented. With an Israeli Prime Minister who was not committed to the peace agreements signed under the previous government, the water accords were inevitably going to suffer from the lack of Israeli support. This can help explain the gestures of distrust which have manifested between the two sides.

Frustrated and fatigued by political violence, Israel elected Ehud Barak in May 1999 as Prime Minister who promised peace with security. With this change, the political climate appears to have turned back towards embracing peace. Barak had campaigned on the notion that he was Rabin’s heir, picking up the peace process where it had been left at his tragic assassination. Coming off the heels of Netanyahu, who had managed to antagonize Americans, Arabs and Israelis and created an atmosphere of mistrust, Barak, was known for being straight forward, where yes means yes and no means no, and as someone who shunned backroom wheeling and dealing.

When Barak came to Washington, DC in July, 1999, he expressed a strong commitment to moving the peace talks forward, suggesting a 15 month framework by which time he said, “We will know whether we have a breakthrough and are really going to put an end to the conflict, or alternatively…we are stuck once again.” [28] Following off the heels of this commitment, in early September, Barak and Arafat signed an interim agreement on the implementation of the Wye agreement. The Sharm el-Shiek memorandum, named for the resort town hosting the conference, provided for the release of 350 Palestinians prisoners held for political offences by Israel and the Israeli transfer of 11 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians by January 2000. [29] Hailed by the United States and other countries around the world, the Sharm el-Shiek agreement marked a rekindling of the peace process. In private, Barak was also making gestures towards peace. Shortly after the signing of the agreement, Barak invited Arafat over to a highly secret dinner at the house of colleague who supported the Labor Party Peace Initiative. Of this encounter Barak said, “It’s like moving between the surrealistic nature of what you see and feel and the deep sense that something historic is happening.” [30]   Since this time, Barak has kept up his end of the peace agreement, by releasing prisoners, returning land and opening up a safe passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. [31]

The renewed commitment to peace has ushered in the opening of the final status talks with the Palestinians. Under Barak’s leadership, which has shown decisive efforts toward more cooperation with the Palestinians, there is a better chance than ever before to find a final solution for managing the water resources of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip which can satisfy the needs and concerns of both parties. With five years of experience working together under the interim agreement, continued international support, and a new political climate oriented towards peace, the parties now have the wisdom and the political backing to improve upon the interim agreement.

Lessons from Academic Research

Alongside the political developments taking place in the peace process over water, there has been several academic studies specifically focusing on institutional frameworks for managing shared water resources between Arabs and Israelis. The studies highlighted in this section are the result of collective inputs from experts from both the academic world and the policy world on international water management and law. These studies are a rich source of information for designing a future permanent water management institution for the Israelis and the Palestinians.  The following is an overview of two recent research projects aimed at identifying what can be considered “best practices” for a water management institution.

As part of a project conducted by the Water Research Institute at the Technion University in Haifa, Israel, 23 international water experts were interviewed about their views on what an “ideal” institutional structure for managing Arab-Israeli water resources should include. [32] The goal of the study was to compare the institutional frameworks created in the Israeli-Palestinian interim agreement and the Israeli-Jordanian agreement. Table 2 lists categories relating to an institutional joint water management framework and the corresponding dominant opinion from the interviewees. Some of these categories will be further elaborated upon.

Table 2

Areas for Cooperation
Type of Institution One Institution needed for both surface and groundwater resources Quantity Quantities should be decided before an institution is established.
Type of Management Joint Management Quality Could generate highest levels of conflict. Suggestions that Israel pay for clean water
Legal Rights Acknowledgement of Palestinian rights should precede any agreement on water allocation. Water Shortage No reference.
Water Allocation Should precede any joint management. Information and research Joint data collection and research and joint monitoring system.
Principles for Water Allocation In order:

1. Needs of population

2. Geography and hydrology

Desalination No reference
Additional Water No reference Money Pricing of water should not be included in the institution.

Water should be priced.

Establishment of Joint Institution For both ground and surface water with subsystems to deal with various sources. Storage No reference
Water Quality Must be part of institution. Dispute Resolution Outside arbitration is suggested as last resort.  Negotiations should remain between parties.
Legal Principles Advocated Prior use, Geography and hydrology, equitable allocation, prevention of harm, equality in the sharing of benefits. Supervision and Enforcement Mechanism Water laws by parties should be harmonized and include regulations against pollution.

Source: Kliot and Shmueli, Real and Ideal Institutional Frameworks, 219.

Several key issues are identified in this study. To begin with, all the respondents of the study suggested that joint management is the best arrangement for shared water resources. It was recommended that one institution should be responsible for this and should include all the riparians of the Jordan watershed, Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, and also allowing for subdivisions by source (a specific aquifer, for example). [33] About 90 percent of the respondents indicated that acknowledgement of water rights, particularly for the Palestinians, is a fundamental prerequisite to establishing a water management structure. Lastly, the interviewees emphasized the importance of addressing water quality concerns along with water quantity concerns, which are often the focus of attention.

Five years after the signing of the Oslo II agreement, several of the recommendations and concerns from this study have shown to be highly relevant in the process of implementing the water accords. Two components in particular from the study have proved to be ongoing sources of contention. First, the loosely defined status of Palestinian water rights has caused frustration by the Palestinians who claim that the institutional structure as it now functions according to the interim agreement effectively gives Israel a veto over all proposed Palestinian water projects. Until Palestinian water resources are more clearly defined, it is likely that these frustrations will continue. Second, water quality concerns with regard to water pollution in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has been a major source of contention. Finding a solution to the pollution problem should be a fundamental component of the water section of a final peace agreement.

The second study is the result of a five-year project undertaken by Palestinian and Israeli researchers with the aim of constructing a method for creating joint management institutions for shared aquifers. The study was the result of the first Israeli-Palestinian water conference in Zurich in December of 1992 with the recognition that very little research had been done which addressed the process of building a management regime for groundwater. Most of the experience and literature focused on management of transboundary surface water. [34] In the first phase of the project, 30 participants, one-third Israelis, one-third Palestinians and one-third water experts from other countries, convened at two workshops to discuss existing knowledge about managing transboundary water resources. From this initial phase, 19 possible joint management structures were identified which differed in scope and goals. All structures emphasized the importance of confidence building measures, joint monitoring and data sharing, and conflict resolution mechanisms. [35]

By the end of the first phase, an approach was created by the researchers, called a “Flexible-Sequential Approach,” which enables decision making to take place along a preagreed upon framework. According to this approach, joint water management could proceed in incremental steps along four routes, which would ultimately lead to an integrated management structure. The four routes or areas of focus are resource protection structures, crisis management structures, economic based structures and comprehensive integrated structures. [36] Resource protection structures would focus on maintaining water quality and quantity of the aquifer. Crisis management structures would address all types of crisis to the aquifer, including sudden crisis such as an oil spill, and cumulative crisis such as droughts and overpumping. Economic structures would encompass market mechanisms to manage water efficiently. Finally, comprehensive integrative structures would cover all elements of aquifer management addressing issues that the other three structures don’t consider such as mechanisms for resolving disagreements, policies for droughts, regulatory capacity and land use.

The second phase of the research study was undertaken along side the implementation of the water accords. After two years of implementing the water accords, the study asserts that the JWC and the JSETs have been a disappointment for both the Israelis and the Palestinians.  The study further argues that this disillusionment with the current joint water management structures will make the starting point for building any future joint water management institutions more difficult. [37] Given the complexities and the problems that have arisen from the use of temporary water management structures for the past five years, this caution seems reasonable. Yet, these five years have also provided invaluable information for designing future permanent joint water management institution for the Israelis and the Palestinians. Whether the institution builds off existing structures or is completely new, the flexible-sequential approach advocated in this study should be evaluated by policy makers on both sides. This approach to institution building, which builds on joint cooperative activities incrementally, would allow for time to build working relationships around specific activities and hopefully create more trust between the two groups.  

A future water agreement between Israel and the Palestinians will have the benefit of five years of experience from implementing the interim agreement combined with new research which has focused on joint water resource management options for Israel and the Palestinians. This chapter has highlighted some of the successes and problems that have arisen with the implementation of Article 40. The development of the Palestinian Water Authority and the strong support and commitment of the international community are positive aspects of the implementation process which will have lasting effects in the final agreement. The work of the Joint Supervision and Enforcement Teams has shown that Palestinians and Israelis can work together to manage their shared water resources.

Still, one of the main points of frustration especially for the Palestinians continues to be the power imbalance that is manifested in the management of their joint water resources. Even if the Palestinians attain statehood and become political “equals,” this imbalance with regard to water will continue in the future because of the vastly different water needs and priorities between the two groups. The Palestinians will want to continue to develop their water resources in the future. However, they will be working with a partner who is much farther along in their water resource development. A future water agreement will have to incorporate a mechanism for handling this imbalance. This is an area of research that is beyond the scope of this paper. One broad recommendation is for both sides to adopt clear minimum standards about water quality and water quantity (for example, adopting the World Health Organization’s standard of 100 liters/person/day or something approaching this) to guide future decisions about water resource development. These standards could act to counter the imbalance with respect to water between these two groups. For example, if the Palestinians or Israelis want to drill a new well, minimum standards on water quality and water quantity could provide a measure of impartiality to the decision making process. Additionally, the recent academic research discussed in this chapter has pointed out key water management issues and postulated several joint water management structures, such as the flexible-sequential approach, which can provide valuable information for designing a permanent water agreement.

[1] Albin, 341.

[2] Steve Rodan, Divided Waters – Part 1.

[3] Schulze, 107.

[4] Interim Israeli Palestinian Agreement (Oslo II), Article 40, Water and Sewage, September 18, 1995.

[5] Albin, 340.

[6] See appendix for extractions.

[7] Peter Gleick, The World’s Water 1998-1999 (Washington, DC: Island Press, 1998), 218.

[8] Alwyn Rouyer, “The Water Accords of Oslo II: Averting a Looming Disaster,” Middle East Policy 7 (October 1999): 115.

[9] Ibid., 117.

[10] Ibid., 118.

[11] Ibid.., 127.

[12] Ibid., 127.

[13] Ibid., 125.

[14] Interview with Ihab Barghothi of the Palestinian Water Authority, October 13,1999.

[15] Ibid., 128.

[16] Ibid., 129.

[17] Rouyer, 120.

[18] USAID West Bank and Gaza Mission. Http:// on 29 March 2000.

[19] Rouyer, 123.

[20] Ibid., 124.

[21] Ibid., 121.

[22] Rouyer, 131.

[23] USAID West Bank and Gaza Mission.

[24] Rouyer, 132.

[25] Deborah Shmueli, “Approaches to Water Dispute Resolution: Applications to Arab-Israeli Negotiations,” International Negotiation 4 (1999): 321.

[26] Albin, 333.

[27] Deborah Sontag, “Peace. Period.” The New York Times Magazine, 19 December 1999, 58.

[28] Comments from a press conference by President Clinton and Prime Minister Barak on 19 July 1999. Http:// 15 August 1999.

[29] “Israel, Palestinians sign interim agreement on Wye River Accords,” Deutsch Presse-Agentur, 5 September 1999.

[30] Sontag, 63.

[31] Ibid., 83.

[32] Nurit Kliot and Deborah Shmueli, “Real and Ideal Institutional Frameworks for Managing the Common Arab-Israeli Water Resources,” Water International 23 (December 1998): 216.

[33] Kliot and Shmueli, 221.

[34] Eran Feitelson and Marwan Haddad, “Identification of Joint Management Structures for Shared Aquifers: A Cooperative Palestinian-Israeli Effort,” World Bank Technical Paper No. 415 (Washington, DC: The World Bank, 1998), 2.

[35] Ibid., 5.

[36] Ibid., 13.

[37] Ibid., 20.


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