Often overlooked by some Western policymakers engaged with the Mideast peace process, water-sharing arrangements have served as a significant driver of regional tensions dating back to Israel's founding in 1948. Control of water resources—vital to all manner of economic development, food production and basic human security—has loomed just beneath the surface of many of the region's headline-earning events of the past 50 years. For example, one of the myriad outcomes of Israel's triumph in the 1967 Six-Day War—Israeli control of the Golan Heights—brought control of key sections of the Jordan River watershed, one of the few reliable freshwater sources in the region. In more recent decades, meanwhile, news coverage of Israel's ongoing West Bank settlement activity has routinely overlooked the fact that Israeli outposts consume a disproportionate share of the West Bank's extremely limited groundwater supplies. This situation has condemned many West Bank Palestinians to lives of near-constant water uncertainty and intensified Palestinian resentment toward Israel.
With Palestinians and, to a lesser extent, Jordanians historically receiving the short end of the stick when it comes water-sharing arrangements with Israel, it comes as little surprise that water access remains a highly charged and deeply emotive cross-border issue here. For its part, Israel has further extended its advantage over its neighbors in terms of water security by revolutionizing the art of water-use efficiency, emerging as a global leader and cutting-edge innovator in desalination and drip-irrigation technology.
Ironically, however, Israel's hefty and continuous investment of human and financial capital into water-saving methods over the years, coupled with technological advances that have substantially lowered the costs of desalinating seawater, have fostered the environment now allowing Israel to revisit water-sharing arrangements with the Jordanians and Palestinians. Indeed, because of these long-term efforts and the end of a recent drought, Israel enjoyed a modest water surplus in 2013 for the first time in years, providing it a strategic window to potentially renegotiate water-sharing agreements with its neighbors.