My View on Dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian

Water Dispute

Gershon Baskin*

October 13, 2004

The following is an attempt to propose a creative non-conventional way of removing the dispute from the Israeli-Palestinian water issue. This idea was first presented by Israeli journalist Gideon Eshet at an IPCRI Israeli-Palestinian water meeting.


We must look at our water problem in an integrative way.  We have many shared water resources. Dividing them on any basis will never meet the needs and desires of both sides. Palestinians insist on resolving the dispute by agreeing to their water rights. Israelis insist that we must deal with water needs and supply problems. Arguing about rights will never create a win-win situation. We must deal with the issue on a demand management basis and we must be able to ensure that whatever the demand for water, it will be met.


Here is how I see the problem and a possible solution – this is very primary in its development and needs a lot of work to have the idea thrashed out.  It is a solution that probably will not be accepted by both sides, not because it is not good and worthy, but simply because people and countries don’t relate to water and water conflicts logically and rationally. If they did, then a possible solution would or could look something like this:


The main problem we face is that we live in a water scarce land and there is a need to supply as much water to all Israelis and Palestinians as they demand for all uses. I have always believed that the bottom line of the Israeli-Palestinian water conflict is that water equals money – and not all that much money in relative global terms. I have also believed that if we are capable of reaching agreements and our agreements demonstrate a good deal of good will and mutual generosity, then the international community will award all of us with its generosity.


I would suggest the following:

A joint Israeli-Palestinian public not-for-profit company mandated and overseen by Israeli and Palestinian law should be established. There could, if deemed worthy, be international participation in the company as well. The main mandate of this company is to supply water for all Israelis and Palestinians for all needs based on the market demands of both societies. The price of water would be set on the basis of the uses of the water and the quality of the water. There would be no discrimination in prices based on national identity. A Palestinian growing tomatoes would pay the same price for the same quality of water as an Israeli growing tomatoes.


In the name of both publics, the company would own all of the available water and would be responsible for producing water all needs for all Israelis and Palestinians, in varied quality levels. All water for domestic use would be the cheapest fresh water available.  The price of the water would increase on the basis of the profits generated from its use. The company would run a closed budget and would have to make investments necessary to produce and to sell more water. It may take many years to balance the budget, but I am sure that the international community would assist with basic funding and in the development of new sources of water as well as in the development of the Palestinian infrastructure so that every Palestinian consumer would have available running water in their taps.


By accepting this concept, we remove all arguments over ownership of water and over rights to water.  We all own all of it and we all have rights to all of it. This system asserts that every single Israeli and Palestinian have equal rights to all the water that they need and that they will be able to purchase all of the water that they demand. A system of this kind of demand management would have the built-in incentives to provide water to all in the most efficient way and for the cheapest prices available.


Israeli and Palestinian and international water experts would then be able to devote their time, energy, knowledge, expertise and ingenuity and demonstrating that we can create the world’s very best water market where scarcity does not exist and where water creates partnerships and peace instead of conflicts and feelings of discrimination. It would become the state of the art water manager.


This does not have to be a pipedream.  I know that many of the experts and all of the cynics are saying “what a foolish idea” – that’s what the kind people will say; the less kind will use more derogative language to describe me and this suggestion.


We will probably never see this idea developed and adopted, instead we will probably see Middle East bizarre type negotiations that will never produce an agreement that will be viewed with favor by anyone other than those would negotiate it. In the end of negotiations, if we ever get there, it is more than likely that the Palestinians will continue to feel that they got the short end of the stick and the Israelis will always believe that they gave the Palestinians too much. This is no recipe for peace and reconciliation.


In order to reach the Promised Land, we must begin to think outside of the box and to propose even the most preposterous ideas that might in the end lead us to something much better for us all.  I have always believed that we must fulfill the real national interests of both sides to reach a workable agreement. That is the only way to make peace.  We will only be able to reach that when we stop thinking about only our own national interests. As an Israeli I believe that Israel’s national interests must be linked to those of the Palestinians, otherwise neither of us will enjoy real national security - in the broadest meaning of that term, and that we will never have real peace.


* Dr. Gershon Baskin is the Israeli Co-Director of IPCRI – the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.