Chapter 5


Though it is not totally destitute, Palestine is not well endowed with either natural resources or raw materials. It would appear that full self-reliance for Palestine will be impossible given natural constraints and limits.


There are no known deposits of smelterable metal ores within the borders of Palestine.


The primary mineral known to be available in commercial quantities is potash. Potash is not a significant revenue producing resource, since it is widely available at low cost for large volume. Its value as a major ingredient in fertilizer, however, makes its presence beneficial for the domestic agricultural sector.

Deposits of barite, a mineral useful in the chemical industry and in oil drilling have been reported in the vicinity of Bethlehem, though extent of reserves is unknown at present. There are also concentrations of several useful minerals in Dead Sea water, which could be exploited much in the same fashion as Israel presently does. 1 The only mining resources in the territories are areas of construction-quality limestone and marble, and sand and gravel deposits.


Energy resources is, with a couple of possible exceptions, one of the areas in which Palestine is the poorest. There are no known fossil fuel reserves. The only exploitable hydroelectric potential is a thus-far hypothetical Red Sea-Dead Sea project canal that would take advantage of the huge drop between those two bodies of water, and which would be located wholly outside of Palestinian territory, controlled by Israel, Jordan, or both. No known exploitable geothermal resources exist. Presently, the territories are 100 percent dependent on fuel imported through Israel for power generation, automobile gasoline, etc.

Though after independence other suppliers may be found, Palestine will for the foreseeable future be completely dependent on external sources for fuel. The only exception to this is solar power, for which Palestine has great potential. Although this energy source is currently quite expensive, technological developments in the near future promise to make it much more competitive.


Compared to many areas of the Middle East, the Palestine region has available and dependable water supplies. Still, it is far from being a water-rich area. Primary sources of water include the Jordan River system, several important aquifers, desalination potential from the Mediterranean and Dead Seas, and precipitation. The water picture is complicated by the fact that most of the water sources available must be shared between at least two, and sometimes as many as five neighbors--Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

Precipitation is the largest single source of water for the Palestine region. About 3.03 billion cubic meters falls within Palestine's boundaries. Seventy percent of this runs off or evaporates. The remaining 30 percent, or roughly 895 million cubic meters (mcm) represents Palestine's average annual renewable total. Most of this goes to recharging the aquifers that underlie the territories. 2

The Jordan River system, which in total potential yield represents approximately 1.5 billion cubic meters of water annually, is the primary source of surface water. 3  Palestine's share of this water is estimated at approximately 320 mcm. 4  A second important source is the nearly 300 aquifer-fed seeps and springs along the base of the western mountains. Only 120 of these springs are perennial, the rest being seasonal. Slightly more than half of their output is fresh water. The balance is brackish, which has only limited uses--for recreation areas near the Dead Sea and in palm tree irrigation. 5

A complex system of aquifers provides important sources of ground water. One writer divides these into "endogenous"--those aquifers which completely underlie Palestinian territory and are recharged by precipitation falling within Palestinian borders--and "common," which represent aquifers underlying both Palestinian and Israeli territory, and are recharged by precipitation falling in both areas. Total safe yield of endogenous aquifers is about 235 mcm, while common aquifers produce around 590 mcm more, for a rough total of over 800 mcm. 6

Taking the figure for Palestine's fair share of the Jordan at 320 mcm, and 895 mcm as the amount of useable water available through precipitation, Palestine's total available renewable water resources should be approximately 1.08 billion cubic meters. If we assume a population figure of about 4 million for the mature state, we arrive at a figure of approximately 270 cubic meters per person annually (a significant increase from the present 100 cubic meters per capita). As will be discussed later in Chapter 8, this comes close to equalling present-day Israeli per capita consumption, which supports a reasonably successful modern agro-industrial society.

Unfortunately, the territories presently do not have full access to their share of the water. Israel exploits nearly 100 percent of several of the "common" aquifers, even though in most cases more than two-thirds of the recharge water falls within Palestinian borders. In some cases the aquifers are over-exploited, in that they are suffering salt-water intrusion from the Mediterranean. This is a particular problem in Gaza, where ground water has become so brackish that it sometimes contains three times the amount of salt specified by World Health Organization standards. Israeli settlers within the occupied territories also extract a disproportionate share from "endogenous" aquifers within the territories. 7

Once achieving independence, Palestine will have a much greater ability to negotiate a fair distribution of water resources. Yet, even with full access to its share of water, Palestine will have little safety margin for development of more water-intensive industries or expansion. Conservation and efficient water usage plans and technology can mitigate much of the impact of constrained water resources. But the upper limits of a finite water supply could in the long run be reached.

Fortunately, there are a number of possible options for bringing additional water supplies to the region. Several of these will require delicate negotiations and international guarantees: bringing water from the Litani River in Lebanon, piping water in from the Nile, or building a 600-kilometer-long conduit from Turkey. A major problem with all three is their vulnerability to interdiction in event of diplomatic reverses or hostilities.

Probably the most promising source for additional water resources is desalination. This method is already employed by Israel and several of the Arabian Gulf states. It has as a disadvantage its high capital costs for physical plant and fuel requirements. Technology and economy-of-scale have already significantly pushed down the cost of desalinated water from a few decades ago, and promising advances in solar and other types of alternate-energy technology make this option quite attractive. 8


Besides water, agricultural land is Palestine's only other significant natural resource. Of the state's 6020 square kilometers, 37 percent, or 2300 km2, is "easily cultivable," while 37% (2250 km2) is less conducive to agriculture but can be "reclaimed at relatively high cost." Much of the remaining land is of little agricultural value due to steep slopes, urbanization, erosion, etc., though some of it could still be exploited for its grazing potential. 9

Though almost 90 percent of the "easily cultivable" land is currently being farmed in one fashion or another, only a small fraction of it is irrigated. Increased availability of water could increase the agricultural value of the land exponentially (see the "Agricultural Sector" section in Chapter 8). 10


There are no known commercially significant deposits of precious or semi-precious metals or minerals within the borders of Palestine.


The eastern Mediterranean has some productive fishing grounds that have been harvested by Gaza fishermen for centuries. In recent decades, Gazans have been heavily restricted, and even on occasion harassed by Israel, limiting the size of the Palestinian catch. With independence will come full access to marine resources as prescribed by international law.

While agreements among the various neighbors to ensure careful husbandry will be required to maintain the ocean fishery as a healthy, renewable resource, it can be an important source economically and nutritionally for Palestine. The characteristics of the Gaza coast also are conducive to aquaculture, "using off-shore cages and feeding the fish garbage and algae." 10


Smelterable Ores

0 on a scale of 10

No ore deposits present.


Extractable Minerals and Mining

2 on a scale of 10

Deposits of a few agriculturally or industrially useful minerals of low value.


Energy Resources

1 on a scale of 10

No fossil fuels; complete dependence on import from external sources. Considerable solar energy potential.


Water Resources

5 on a scale of 10

Israel presently controls most access to water; fair negotiated settlement would provide adequate water, though surpluses are not likely for the presently forseeable future.


Agriculture Land

5 on a scale of 10

Amount of cultivated land could be doubled, and improved efficiency could dramatically improve production; still, not enough land available to make Palestine anywhere close to being self-sufficient.


Precious Metals and Minerals

0 on a scale of 10

None known to be present in significant quantities.


Marine Resources

6 on a scale of 10

Considerable potential for Palestinian exploitation of Mediterranean fisheries, as well as development of aqua-culture.


0 + 2 + 1 + 5 + 5 + 0 + 6 = 19/7 =

2.7 on a scale of 10


  1. Vivian Bull, The West Bank--Is It Viable?, (Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Company, 1979), 105-106. "Masterplanning," 25.
  2. Bull, 67; Patrick L. Clawson and Howard Rosen, The Economic Consequences of Peace for Israel, The Palestinians, and Jordan, (Washington, DC: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1991), 34.
  3. "Masterplanning," 25.
  4. "Masterplanning," 26.
  5. Sharif S. Elmusa, "Dividing the Common Waters: An International Water Law Approach," Journal of Palestine Studies, Issue 87 (Spring 1993): 60-63.
  6. Elmusa, 63-65.
  7. Lesch, 132-133.
  8. "Masterplanning," 16.
  9. Abed, 9.
  10. Lesch, 124.

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