Latest Israeli-Palestinian land dispute centers on shrinking Dead Sea

Latest Israeli-Palestinian land dispute centers on shrinking Dead Sea

In a country where land is such a precious commodity, you might think that suddenly having more acreage would be a blessing. Instead, it’s sparked yet another political fight.

As it has for decades, the water level of the Dead Sea is dropping at a rate of more than three feet a year — largely as a result of dams built in Israel, Jordan, and Syria, and water subsidies that make agricultural irrigation cheap and wasteful. This, in turn, has caused the shoreline to recede and exposed 35,000 acres of new, unclaimed land.

Today, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that, after two years of legal battles, the Israeli Civil Adminstration has decided that the new coastline is state land. The decision comes despite the claims of neighboring Palestinian communities that their holdings previously extended to the waterline, and that the newly exposed land should therefore be theirs as well. According to the Haaretz report, the Civil Administration could not verify these claims.

Shoreline property is a particularly valuable resource on the Dead Sea. Resorts built on beachfront property 20 years ago now have to shuttle tourists to the water’s edge. The sea’s southern portion is hydraulically engineered and entirely artificial — pumps transport water from the north into "evaporation pools" in the south for the production of potash and other cosmetic products that capitalize on the sea’s supposed healing properties.

The Haaretz article notes that the Israeli government will use the land for tourism projects, but whether the territory can sustain development is uncertain; the exposed land is pockmarked by large sinkholes where now-dry aquifers have collapsed, and the runoff that does make it to the Dead Sea is polluted by sewage. The new land may be more trouble than it is worth, but that’s not likely to defuse the fight over who controls it.