Groundwater Resources and International Law in the Middle East Peace Process

Water International, Vol. 28, No. 2, pp. 154-161, June 2003

8 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2005

See all articles by Yoram Eckstein

Yoram Eckstein

Kent State University

Gabriel Eckstein

Texas A&M University School of Law


Next to issues of land, water resources are the major bone of contention in the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. The objective of negotiations is de facto setting the clock back to the eve of the Israel War of Independence, when the Jews accepted the 1947 UN resolution of partition, while the Arabs rejected it. The Arabs now accept the principle of territorial partition, but at the same time, they demand re-apportioning of resources, mainly of water. The Palestinians contend that the facts created on the ground unilaterally by Israel during the last 50 years, namely the agricultural development and the high water consumption by the Israeli urban sector, leave them without resources necessary for their development as a modern society. Per capita annual renewable freshwater resources in the region is among the lowest in the world. Approximately 600 million m3, or about one-third of the regional fresh groundwater consumption, is annually abstracted from aquifer systems recharged at the uplands of the Upper Cretaceous partly karstified carbonate formations of Judea and Samaria, terrenes often referred to as the West Bank. Israel and the Israeli agricultural settlements established within Judea and Samaria use 495 million m3/year (or 82.5 percent) of the abstracted water, leaving to the Palestinians the remaining 105 million m3/year. Thus, while the recharge zone to the Judean and Samarian aquifer systems are within the territories with an overwhelmingly Palestinian majority, most of the discharge occurs through water wells within the Israeli administration. The situation is reversed in the Gaza Strip, where Israel allows underflow of only 7 million m3/year of groundwater across the border, a less than 10 percent contribution to the nearly 80 million m3/year overdrawn water budget of the area. The issue of water is complicated by glaringly wide disparity in per capita water consumption between the two nations. While lines on the ground may separate two nations with conflicting territorial ambitions, apportioning of groundwater between Israel and the future Palestinian State proves to be one of the most intractable issues in the Middle East Peace Process. Moreover, neither international nor domestic law provides an adequate answer to questions of ownership or rights.

Keywords: Groundwater, Middle East, Mountain Aquifer, Israel, Palestinian

JEL Classification: K33, Q25, Q30

Suggested Citation

Eckstein, Yoram and Eckstein, Gabriel, Groundwater Resources and International Law in the Middle East Peace Process. Water International, Vol. 28, No. 2, pp. 154-161, June 2003, Available at SSRN:

Yoram Eckstein

Kent State University ( email )

Kent, OH 44242
United States

Gabriel Eckstein (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University School of Law ( email )

United States
817-212-3912 (Phone)

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