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I.  Background

The State of Israel is located in a relatively arid area that includes a desert.  The state collaborated with the private sector to effectively use and maximize the limited available water resources by promoting and developing a desalination program as well as by utilizing advanced technologies in agriculture.[1]  The development and oversight of the execution of policies for the conservation and use of water are within the responsibilities of the Ministry of Energy and Water Resources.[2]

A Review of Agricultural Policies by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) concluded as follows:

Israel’s agriculture is unique amongst developed countries in that land and water resources are nearly all state-owned and that agricultural production is dominated by co-operative communities.  Since the late 1980s, agriculture in Israel has benefited from: a stable macroeconomic climate; policy reforms; high levels of investment in R&D; a developed education system; high-performing extension services; and accumulated farm management expertise.

Israel is a world leader in agricultural technology, particularly in farming in arid conditions. Israeli agriculture thus relies on an “induced”, rather than “natural”, comparative advantage, one built on knowledge and technological progress.[3]

It should be noted, however, that according to a position paper submitted to the OECD in June 2010, the importance of agriculture in the Israeli economy has declined in recent years to 3% of total employment and 2% of the country’s domestic product.[4]

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II.  Legal Framework

The law governing the use of water for agricultural purposes is the Water Law, 5719-1959[5] (the Law) and subsidiary legislation.  According to the Law, water sources in the State of Israel are publicly owned and controlled by the state for the purpose of accommodating the needs of Israeli residents and developing the country.[6]  The law specifically provides that “[a] person’s right in any land does not confer on him a right in a water resource situated therein or crossing it or abutting thereon.”[7]  Approval for the receipt of water from a water source may be granted based on a qualified purpose, including agriculture.[8]

The Water Law requires every person to use water in an economical and efficient way, to maintain water equipment in good condition to avoid waste, and to ensure the prevention of clogging and the depletion of water sources.[9]  A violation of these requirements may result in an injunction requiring repair, or the discontinuation of water production, supply, or use pending rectification.[10]

Water production from a water source, or water desalinization for personal use or for supply to others, requires a license issued by the Governmental Authority on Water (GAW).[11]  The license specifies the amount of water the licensee may produce and supply, and includes any other conditions determined by the GAW, including the amount of water that is permitted to be used by the licensee for agricultural purposes.[12]  This amount is determined in accordance with a formula that has been adopted by the Minister of Agriculture in regulations.[13]

In accordance with the Water Law the GAW may issue a declaration designating a specific region as an area that is subject to limitations on water use.  Such a declaration may be issued when the GAW has determined that water sources in the designated area are not sufficient for maintaining current water consumption.[14]  The designation of an area as one that is subject to limitations on water consumption must be published in the official gazette.  Following publication of the designation, the GAW may determine the maximum level of water consumption that is permitted in the designated area for agricultural purposes.[15]

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III.  Intercountry Disputes Concerning the Use of Water

The control and distribution of water in the Middle East is one of the contested topics between Israel and the Palestinians and is subject to the parties’ renewed negotiations on a final status peace agreement.  Much of the water sources in the area originate from a shared aquifer, which is located underneath Israel and the West Bank.  The parties disagree on issues relating to control and distribution of water, including the appropriate levels of consumption and the need for proper treatment of sewage and development of new water sources.

Information on the differing views concerning this topic can be found in the following sources:

(1)    Amikam Nachmani, A Commodity in Scarcity: The Politics of Water in the Middle East, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (Mar. 1, 1994), http://jcpa.org/article/a-com modity-in-scarcity-the-politics-of-water-in-the-middle-east/.

(2)    The Water Issue Between Israel and the Palestinians: Main Facts, Water Authority, State of Israel (Feb. 2012), http://www.water.gov.il/Hebrew/ProfessionalInfoAnd Data/2012/19-Water-Issues-between-Israel-and-Palestinians-Main-Facts.pdf.

(3)    The Issue of Water Between Israel and the Palestinians, Water Authority, State of Israel (Mar. 2009), http://www.water.gov.il/Hebrew/ProfessionalInfoAndData/2012/21-Water-Issues-Between-Israel-and-the-Palestinians.pdf.

(4)    Sharif S. Elmusa, Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine, The Water Issue and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict (Information Paper No. 2, 1993), http://www.thejerusalem fund.org/images/TheWaterIssueandPalestinianIsraeliConflict.pdf.

(5)    Jad Isaac, Applied Research Institute, Core Issues of the Palestinian-Israeli Water Dispute, Palestine Liberation Organization, http://www.nad-plo.org/userfiles/file/Reports/ core.pdf (last visited Aug. 8, 2013).

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Prepared by Ruth Levush
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
October 2013



[1] See Israel’s Water Economy, Ministry of Energy and Water Resources (MEWR), http://energy.gov.il/ English/Subjects/water/Pages/AboutWater.aspx (last visited Aug. 8, 2013).

[2] See Areas of Responsibilities, MEWR, http://energy.gov.il/English/Subjects/Pages/default.aspx (last visited Aug. 8, 2013).

[3] OECD Review of Agricultural Policies: Israel 2010 (summary), OECD, http://www.oecd.org/israel/ oecdreviewofagriculturalpoliciesisrael.htm (last visited Aug. 8, 2013).

[4] OECD, Agricultural Policy Reform in Israel (Position Paper, June 2010), http://www.oecd.org/tad/agricultural-policies/45189389.pdf.

[5] Water Law, 5719-1959, 13 Laws of the State of Israel 173 (5719-1958/59), as amended.

[6] Id. § 1.

[7] Id. § 4.

[8] Id. § 6.

[9] Id. § 9.

[10] Id. § 11.

[11] Id. § 23.

[12] Id. § 24.

[13] Id. § 25A.

[14] Id. § 36.

[15] Id. § 37(c).  For the most recent regulations establishing the criteria for the distribution of water for agriculture at the time this report was completed, see Water Regulations (Criteria for Allocation of Water in Agriculture) (Temporary Provision), 5773-2013, Kovetz Hatakanot (Subsidiary Legislation, Official Gazette) 5773, No. 7221, pp. 728–41 (Feb. 7, 2013), http://www.justice.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/65F0CE77-3AC6-4FDF-B288-40E23FB894B9/39782/7221.pdf.

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Last Updated: 03/31/2014