Water lies at the heart of the Arab-Israeli dispute in general and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular. Palestine, defined here as the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, occupies a unique status from a hydrological point of view, where the West Bank is located in the upstream portion of the Limestone Groundwater Aquifer System and in the downstream of the Jordan River Basin while Gaza Strip is located in the downstream portion of the Coastal Groundwater Aquifer System. Following the 1967 war, Israel imposed strict restrictions on well drilling and construction of water distribution networks which left 25 % of the Palestinians without piped water supply.
Israel is currently utilizing about 80 percent of the Palestinian groundwater resources and denying Palestinians their rightful utilization of the Jordan River. Palestinians are currently allocated 80 mcm per year for domestic use leaving the per capita consumption under suppressed demand at an average of 30 cm/year which is far below the required standards of water supply. For agriculture, Palestinians have access to 150 mcm per year which they are using to irrigate around 10% of their cultivated lands while Israel is enjoying abundant water to irrigate 50 % of its cultivated land. The situation is exacerbated by the colonization of the West Bank and Gaza by Jewish settlers who are consuming more than 90 mcm per year from Palestinian water resources.
According to Oslo II agreement, Israel recognized the Palestinian water rights, but these are to be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations. However, so far, no negotiations have taken place to enumerate the Palestinian water rights. The issue of Palestinian water rights will be one of the most difficult issues in the permanent status negotiations. Palestinian water rights include both the groundwater of the West Bank and Gaza Aquifer Systems and the surface water of the Jordan River Basin.
Unless the Palestinian water rights are addressed immediately and properly according to the international laws and principles that will translate their water rights to actual water in their pipes, Palestinians will remain the thirsty partner in the Middle East with a severe water crisis that will impact the sustainability of the peace process.