But despite the current challenges, better water management – perhaps more than any of the other five issues to be determined in final-status negotiations – holds the possibility for improved cooperation and trust-building, because the welfare of both peoples is linked by their dependence on this vital shared resource.
"On the positive side, the Joint Water Committee is the only committee of the five final-status committees that had some resemblance of working," says Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of Friends of the Earth Middle East.
But, he adds, it's become dysfunctional. "It's failing both the Palestinians and the Israelis together because ... it's not preventing large-scale contamination of shared waters – shared waters of which the Israeli side takes the lion's share."
According to Oslo, Israelis were to get 483 million cubic meters of an estimated 679 MCM of available West Bank water from three shared basins known collectively as the Mountain Aquifer – about 71 percent. Palestinians were to get 118 MCM (17 percent), and the right to develop an additional 78 MCM (12 percent).
Since the agreement was signed, however, key variables have changed. The Palestinian population has spiked and per capita water usage has increased, but Palestinians have not developed anywhere close to 78 MCM – partly because of Israel's bureaucratic permitting process and Palestinian mismanagement. In Gaza, more than 90 percent of water taken from the main aquifer is not fit for drinking because of contamination from raw sewage and an unsustainable rate of pumping, which turns the remaining water salty.