Israeli Plan Proposes Supplying Palestinians Less Water Than Allocated to Settlers

Minister Yuval Steinitz rejects 'unacceptable' water plan that proposes giving West Bank Palestinians 65 cubic meters per person by 2050, about 40% less than allocated per capita to residents of settlements.

A Palestinian village where water is in short supply.
Emil Salman

A master plan developed by the Water Authority to calculate water supplies for the West Bank until 2050 has sparked controversy at the National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry and been stopped in its tracks by National Infrastructure Minister Yuval Steinitz, after concerns that it doesn’t provide the Palestinians with enough water.

The plan projected that between 2015 and 2030, the state-run Mekorot Water Company would increase the water it supplies to West Bank Palestinians from 45 cubic meters per person to 60 cubic meters. For the period between 2030 and 2050, the model only projected increasing supplies to 65 cubic meters per person. The plan assumed that, over the decades, about 40% less water would be allocated per capita to West Bank Palestinians than to the residents of settlements, TheMarker has learned.

When the plan was presented at a meeting in September convened by the Infrastructure Ministry, with representatives of other government ministries, the Israel Defense Forces and the Civil Administration in the West Bank, the first to voice concern was Infrastructure Minister Steinitz. Water Authority officials present countered that the Palestinians are currently not consuming 45 cubic meters of water per capita a year, which, according to those present, sparked astonishment among the others.

In response to the Water Authority’s contention, the representative of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said that the limited water consumption by Palestinians was the product of low levels of the supply of water by Israel, not low demand for water.

Steinitz at that point reportedly told the Water Authority representatives present that the plan was unacceptable, and that international law requires water to be supplied to residents in a nondiscriminatory manner.

He also rejected the argument that the Palestinian Authority, which controls all the major West Bank cities and considerable territory between them, should have responsibility for ensuring water supplies.

At that point, Steinitz is said to have ended the discussion and asked Water Authority representatives to return with a revised plan.

As far as is known, the Water Authority is set to submit a modified plan in the near future.

There are other aspects of the Water Authority’s plan that are also considered potentially controversial. It assumes, for example, that the Israeli population in West Bank settlements will grow from the current 374,000 to 917,000 in 2050. It also assumes that the Palestinian population will grow from 2.1 million to 6.3 million in 2050. Water Authority representatives were hesitant, however, to commit to population projections, saying that estimates varied widely.

At the same time, Water Authority sources said Israeli investment in major water pipelines in the West Bank in the coming decades is expected to be up to seven times what it is in Israel proper. In 2030, for example, outlays are expected to be 568 million shekels ($148 million), compared to 82 million shekels inside Israel. And in 2050, Israeli expenditure on major water lines in the West Bank is projected at 1.25 billion shekels, compared to 414 million shekels in Israel.