Over the years, water has emerged as a more threatening challenge to regional peace in West Asia. Confirming the gravity of this situation, even former Director of Israel’s Agriculture Ministry, Meir Ben-Mein, had predicted that the next war in the Middle East would be a struggle over water resources.

Interestingly, the Israel Palestine conflict is also a rare convergence of hydro-politics with geo-politics. Professor Aaron Wolf has interestingly pointed out that one needs to take into account both the concepts of ‘water crisis’ and ‘water conflict’ while dealing with the hypo-political situation of Israel Palestine conflict.

The Six Day war in 1967 led to the occupation of West Bank and the immediate utilization of its significant water reserves. Since Israel did not ‘annex’ Gaza Strip and West Bank, it did not extend the Israeli water laws in these territories. On the contrary, since Golan Heights was annexed and not occupied by Israel, the laws were implemented there.

Immediately, after occupying the territories, Proclamation 2 was released by the Israeli officials that declared that water resources in the territory were the property of the Government of Israel. The Military Order 92 called as ‘Concerning Jurisdiction over Water regulations’ transferred the authority over water resources to the official appointed by the Military commander. Later, Military Order 158 forbade construction of wells without prior permission from Israel. Thus, the villages and local authorities that had power before the occupation eventually lost it.

Currently, the water availability and quality in the Gaza strip needs immediate concern as every year, the groundwater level is dropping by 15-20 cm. Even the water from Wadi Gaza which used to replenish Gaza’s aquifers are now impounded to Israel. Several Israeli wells have also been constructed in the outskirts of Gaza. Also, there are 3500 settlers which have access to water available in the strip.

The Palestinians need to get permissions from the Israeli military authority for drilling wells. Since 1967, only 23 such permissions have been given, out of which three of them cater to the agricultural needs. Also, strict fines are imposed on excessive pumping. Also, there is evident inequality in the rates paid by Israelis and Palestinians, respectively, on the water supplies. For example, settlers have to pay $0.40 for their domestic consumption and their agricultural demands are subsidized as they are required to pay $.016 for the agricultural use. On the contrary, the Palestinians have to pay the standard rate of $1.20 for piped water. This inequality becomes treacherous as Palestinians too need water supply for building agriculture and industry, so that they evolve into a modern state. According to the Palestinian water authorities, around 50% of the domestic water gets lost due to the inefficient and old supply systems. The conventional sprinkler methods are used in agriculture which eventually end up requiring 20-25% of more water. In the same way, the simple surface methods used also require 40-60% more water when compared with drip irrigation systems.

Currently, the water conflict, taking into consideration its economic value, costs around $30-$70 million per year. At the same time, it does not qualify for an enormous amount, as it means only 0.4-0.9% of Palestinian’s GDP and 0.07% of Israel’s GDP. Though, only few Palestinian communities have continuous water supply and approximately two hundred communities are not even integrated with the water system. For example, even Ramallah, in spite of being at the top priority of the Palestinian Authority in the matters of political diplomacy, continues to avail running water only on the alternate days. Though, Israeli scholarship states that after in 1967, the Israeli administration drilled several wide and deep wells for extraction of groundwater. In fact, from 1967- 1995, the Israeli National Water Carrier System distributed water to several Palestinian communities in the West Bank, which were located in between the urban centers established in Judea and Samaria. The number of such communities rose from four to three hundred and nine villages.

Though, water resources management would not eradicate the conflict, but it would definitely lower down the egregious intensity of animosity over political autonomy. This hypothesis is supported by Libiszewski’s model that deals with water conflicts at international level. This model states that conflict reduction processes, if implemented, within the organizational structures of respective institutions, do reduce the ‘intensity of conflict’.

There are several layers behind the heterogeneity of Israel-Palestine water dispute. Definitely, both sides are to be blamed as they have yet not reached to a sustainable solution and have only amplified the animosity. To start with, one of the major reasons behind water scarcity is the geographical location of the two sides and the arid climate that causes water scarcity. The hydro-geological nuances along with the minimalistic availability of surface water leave no other option but to rely on aquifers. The inequitable distribution of the water from Mountain aquifer, the role of military proclamations in occupied territories along with the illegal drilling caused by the Palestinians have only worsened the situation. Once again, the ambiguity that confronts the agreements, be it, the Declaration of Principles, the Cairo Agreement or even the Gaza-Jericho agreement makes it even more difficult to differentiate ‘rights’ according to their specificity. After 2000, water has been used as a weapon to counter attack the effect of terrorism, along with egregious bulldozer and tank activity that has caused loss of millions by damaging the water resources infrastructure. As if these political issues were not enough, further chances of environmental pollution, desalination and lack of sewage treatment causes an impediment to the already threatened quantity and quality of water. The failure of JWC and PWA in dealing with the concrete causes is not a temporary setback but an indelible loss of investment, time and management. Even NGOs, inspite of their apolitical and unofficial status have not been able to collaborate in an extensive manner with the Palestinian Authority and the State of Israel. Very often, water issues are not given the deserved preponderance due to more attention being bestowed on boundaries, refugee issues, settlements and Jerusalem. Indeed, solving the water crisis would not eradicate the Israel-Palestine conflict but it would definitely lessen down one of the prime challenges, along with providing a sustainable development model.

Hence, there are few recommendations, if considered, could play a pivotal role in solving the crisis. To start with, the DOP should clearly mention, with all its specificity about the ‘water rights of the Palestinians’. Both Israel and Palestine should agree on the main principles of the Watercourse convention so that the international law is respected and given due credence in this dispute. Along with it, both the sides should honestly chalk out the amount of water needed by them, for both domestic and economic development perspectives. It is also necessary to define the basis ‘equitable’ distribution of water that satisfies both the sides. In order to achieve this objective, a fact finding hydro-geological committee should be established. Also, it should not suffer from the deficiencies that both JWC and PWA had. The development, conservation and distribution of the water resources should be done in a very concrete manner rather than passing symbolic gestures. Also, the international community should provide ample donations for these committees to function. The existing agreements should shed off their temporary disguise and adopt a more permanent and flawless approach. Th immediate water deficiency in the Gaza Strip and Jericho should be bought into attention. The political rivalry between Hamas and Fatah should cooperate on the issues of water resources because it would only delay the peace process and the real victim of the political mess would be the innocent Palestinian villages. The role of NGOs and civil society should be encouraged and they should be given a chance to collaborate with the respective authorities. Ways should be thought about regarding the development of water treatment plants and building the infrastructure in West Bank. In a nutshell, it is high time when both Israel and Palestine should take into consideration that ill-effects of water scarcity are going to treacherously affect both of them in the longer run and hence, this existing issue should not be ignored.