|Hydropolitics along the Jordan River. Scarce Water and Its Impact on the Arab-Israeli Conflict (UNU, 1995, 272 pages)|
|4. Interdisciplinary analysis and the Jordan River watershed|
|4.4. Cooperation-inducing implementation: Three examples|
As outlined in the description of each party's initial position at the beginning of this chapter, as well as in chapter 2, one of the most contentious issues between Israelis and Palestinians is the status of the mountain aquifer. By closely examining the claims of both Israel and West Bank Palestinians to this groundwater, insight might be gained on how to resolve this aspect of the water conflict.
As noted earlier, the mountain aquifer is actually three hydrogeologic units, all three of which recharge in the Judaean Hills on the West Bank - the western aquifer, which flows west to Israel and the Mediterranean; the eastern aquifer, which flows towards the Jordan River; and the north-east aquifer, which flows towards the Jezreel Valley. Their annual "safe yield" and current use is as shown in table 4.5. Total consumption within the west Bank is 35 MCM/yr, mostly from wells, for Israeli settlements, and 115 MCM/yr, from wells and cisterns, for Palestinians.
The initial claims by each party for these aquifers, including legal ambiguities, are detailed in chapter 2, as is a note of warning on the concept of "safe yield" (see chap. 2, footnote 1). In general, the positions can be summarized as follows.
Israel considers its historic rights to the water it currently uses to be irrevocable. Israel has been pumping the western aquifer from its side of the Green Line since 1955, and views with trepidation the loss of upgradient control of this aquifer. Measures taken to restrict Palestinian pumping on the West Bank are viewed as defensive, necessary to protect the quantity and quality of Israeli wells. The Ministry of Agriculture has claimed that control of the water resources on the entire West Bank is necessary to protect Israeli water. The total amount claimed is 445 MCM/yr, together with control of water resources development over the entire West Bank.
Palestinians have claimed first right to all of the water that originates on the West Bank (see, for example, Zarour and Isaac 1992) and have objected to Israeli controls. Palestinians were also to receive 70-150 MCM/yr from the Jordanian share of the Johnston negotiations. The total amount claimed is 655735 MCM/yr, together with control over water resources development over all of the West Bank.
The issue of water quantity was dealt with in the previous section. It would be difficult to accept either the Palestinian claim to all of the water originating on the West Bank, or the Israeli claim to 75 per cent of it. I suggest again future per capita needs as a basis for both claims. By this token, West Bank Palestinians would gain rights to a total of 300 MCM/yr, compared with the current use of 115 MCM/yr. Israel would go from a total current allocation from all sources of 1,500 MCM/yr to 1,000 MCM/yr, the loss to be made up through desalination, waste-water reclamation, interbasin transfers, or water purchases. Cuts would be made from a variety of sources, as described below.
The remaining issue is control. In chapter 2, I examined the Israeli claim that control over all of the West Bank is necessary for its "water security" and found the claim hydrologically lacking. Because of the flow of groundwater, and the depth to the water-table at the water divide, it would be difficult for Palestinians to impact Israeli wells in the western aquifer if they acquired control to the eastern aquifer. Further, because of the great depth of the watertable in the Judaean Hills, Israeli water managers have suggested that control might be relinquished to as much as two-thirds of the area overlying the western aquifer, with their water supply still guaranteed.
In turn, the Palestinian claim to control of the water resources of the entire West Bank is also difficult to accept. Just as Israelis must come to accept the Palestinian need for control, Palestinians must recognize Israeli concerns for water security. If the above water allocations are accepted, at least 400 MCM/yr of Israeli water would still originate on the West Bank, and Israel would be remiss in not guaranteeing its future supply before relinquishing control.
Several steps might address the twin concerns of Palestinian control and Israeli water security. The first might be to emphasize surface water development on the West Bank. As mentioned, Jordan still "owes" the West Bank 70-150 MCM/yr from the Johnston accords. Although Jordan has its own water deficit, this water might be acquired through a series of water exchanges, as described below.
Another step might be to take advantage of topography to give mutual guarantees of Palestinian and Israeli supplies. As mentioned earlier, because of the disparate depths to the water-table near the Mediterranean coast and in the Judaean Hills, and the difference in efficiency between wells and surfacedelivery systems, it is cheaper to pump water from the mountain aquifer at the Israeli wells and then pipe it to the hills of the West Bank, than it is to pump directly in the hills. This suggests a mutually dependent system of water delivery, where Palestinian water is pumped at Israeli wells, then piped to Palestinian users. Since the Palestinians are upgradient and can threaten Israeli supplies, both parties would have a "hand on the tap," and therefore each would have an incentive to cooperate.
The final step to address the issue of control would focus on the problem of water quality and the threat to its degradation. Israeli concerns over upgradient Palestinian control extend beyond threats to water quantity and include dangers to water quality. Palestinian industrial development could threaten the quality of water in Israeli wells, even unintentionally; however, as for water quantity, some sites on the West Bank are more susceptible to groundwater contamination than others. A joint Israeli-Palestinian committee to establish zones of groundwater susceptibility, investigating soil type, rock formation, and groundwater flow movement, might allow Israel more confidence to release control. In turn, it might provide Palestinians with a useful basis for a plan for development on the West Bank, which would help protect their own water supplies.
Any combination of the above steps for addressing both Palestinian concerns for control and Israeli needs for security could help break a difficult impasse. Each approach might also have repercussions on other water conflicts. Some possible combinations are outlined below.
The first possibility is that Israel gives up claim to the eastern side of the mountain aquifer in favour of Palestinian control. In exchange, Jordan accedes to some Israeli claims on the Yarmuk (which can then be supplied by gravity to Israeli settlements in the Jordan valley), and Syria agrees to allow more Yarmuk water to flow to Jordan and Is reel. Turkey might increase Euphrates flow to Syria by the relatively small amount that would be foregone.
Alternatively, Israel waives its claim to the Yarmuk in exchange for Jordan retaking responsibility to supply the West Bank with ample surface water for its development needs, which in turn alleviates Israeli concerns over Palestinian groundwater exploitation.
Either of the above agreements would allow the Unity Dam to proceed. During construction, Israel allows Jordan to store Yarmuk winter run-off in the Sea of Galilee, thereby not only allowing a stable Jordanian water supply during the dry summer months but also reducing the salinity levels in Israel's main reservoir.
Negotiations would then focus on the western mountain aquifer, and on methods of joint inspection and planning between Israelis and Palestinians, as described earlier.