Joint governance of the shared water resources of Israelis and Palestinians is limited through a range of political disputes. One of the disputes concerns wastewater, which presents both a source as well as an environmental nuisance. This Working Paper addresses the issue of wastewater governance and identifies which uncertainties can hinder transboundary cooperation on wastewater throughout the West Bank.

Israel and Palestine are mutually dependent on shared water resources, as ground and surface water flows in a natural manner from the higher parts of the West Bank into Israel. However, joint governance of the shared water resources of Israelis and Palestinians is limited through a range of political disputes in which water has, unfortunately, become part and parcel of the wider political context.

Joint water management between Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank is constrained due to disagreement on the following issues:

  • Water rights: Technical approach to water is needed (Israel) versus Water rights need to be agreed upon before technical issues can be discussed (Palestinians). This discussion focuses on, among others, the degree to which mutual obligations with regard to water share redistribution, as agreed in the Oslo agreements, have been fulfilled.
  • Efficient use: Enough water is given/ Israel has proven that water can be efficiently used (Israel) versus the Palestinians. The water given is not enough to sustain livelihoods. This discussion focuses on the exact amount of water used and the wastewater produced. The main bone of contention here is the actual population size in the West Bank.
  • Competence: (Implicit) The other party is not competent enough: unaccounted-for losses are extreme and a lot of water is stolen (Israel) versus the Palestinians.  As long as we are not independent, we cannot build a good infrastructure/ Based on the area-division, the Civil Administration and Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are blocking many projects and prohibit efficient working/ PA closes illegal wells and connections, but people need to drink (Palestine)
  • The role of the JWC: Joint Water Council (JWC) is working according as agreed through the Oslo-agreements (Israel) versus JWC institutionalizes an unequal process (Palestine). The issue of the JWC as part of larger issues of power disparity and cooperation has been researched by a range of scholars (see for example).
  • Cost of wastewater treatment: The wastewater from across the Green Line is polluting essential Israeli water resources (Israel) versus We are forced to pay for treating our own water, but do not get it back (Palestine).

This study focuses on the issue of wastewater. Wastewater is produced in Israel, in Palestinian villages and towns and in the settlements. Wastewater flows from Israel into the West Bank, from the West Bank into Israel and from the settlements into Palestinian territory. Along the way, part of the water is taken up by plants and evaporates and part of it enters the aquifers, while the remaining water is collected in the (increasingly) polluted wadi’s. Eventually, some of the wastewater is treated in wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) within or outside the West Bank.

This working paper seeks to clarify the dispute and offer guidance on encouraging a shared framing by Israelis and Palestinians on the issues and possible solutions of transboundary water cooperation.