I. On the regional importance of water
II. On how water contributes to conflict
III. On how water can contribute to peace
Bibliography and References
This paper looks at the role played by water in the context of the Palestinian Territories. In the course of the ongoing dispute between Palestinians and Israelis, negotiations over a political settlement focus at large on five main issues: refugees, Israeli settlers, defining the borders, the final status of Jerusalem, and water. While the first four issues have taken a relatively prominent role in the public debate, the fifth one has often been sidelined in favour of more emotional and ‘obvious’ topics. This is however not to say that water would not play a crucial role in finding a peaceful political solution to the ongoing dispute.
In fact, as we will show, the regional water scarcity and related problems pose outwardly intractable problems going hand in hand with ideological and geographical disputes in a wider matrix of conflicting riparians of the Jordan River basin. We will further show that water has the ability to act both as an aggravator to conflict and as a solution to hostility and mistrust and can in fact be part for a first step towards a solution to the entire regional conflict.
However, while water clearly is a regional issue, we will, in order to keep this work concise, concentrate on the geographical region of Palestine, illustrating the interrelationship between ecology and security in the context of the ongoing conflict.
I. On the regional importance of water
While precipitation in much of geographic Palestine is not low by comparison to most European countries, it is nevertheless very poorly endowed with freshwater. The main source for ground water is rain, making water supply highly susceptible to droughts, as water availability fluctuates dramatically both seasonally and from year to year. Flows of many of the region's rivers may be in dry years as little as one-half or one-third their normal volume, while the region repeatedly experienced severe droughts. Realistically, the region has run out of water resources to meet its needs for domestic and industrial use as well as for food production since 1970.
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The Western, Northern, and Eastern Aquifer underlying the West Bank
(Source: Gleick, 1994)
Most surface water lies in the north and northeast with the headwaters of the Jordan River system lying in Syria and Lebanon. The region holds only three large bodies of inland water, the Dead Sea, Lake Huleh and the Sea of Galilee, which have all suffered from overexploitation. Worsening the ecological problem of decreasing water levels due to overexploitation has been the reoccurrence of several dry years. Continued excessive use of the region's limited underground resources could have serious detrimental effects on its agricultural and industrial sector. Increasingly, falling water levels (both surface and groundwater) and water quality problems are endangering the supply of suitable drinking water. Most of the region's few rivers are already so polluted that fish cannot survive in them. What is more, due to over consumption, the pressure balance which keeps the salt water of the Mediterranean from invading the coastal aquifers is increasingly disturbed. As the pressure of sweet water forcing its way to the Mediterranean is decreased as a result of pumping, the salinity of groundwater in the region is rising, already reaching crisis point in Gaza and the surrounding areas.
By some estimates, forty percent of Israel's groundwater comes from shared aquifers underlying the occupied territories. However, the pressure of a growing population on water supply has reached crisis point. By 2001 the Palestinian Territories had become one of the most densely populated areas of the world with 642 habitants per sq. km in the West Bank and up to 2933 habitants per sq. km in the Gaza strip. Consequently, water has always been a key strategic natural resource and the competition over water resources is central to geographic Palestine.
 Gleick, 1994
 Wasserstein, 2003; The steady lowering of the Dead Sea's water level due to reduced water flow from the Jordan is an obvious example of the results of increased exploitation. The entire sea could dry up by 2050
 Wasserstein, 2003
 Allan, 2002