This article proposes the deconstruction of the decentralization process by analyzing Palestinian regulations on Water User Associations (WUAs): contrarily, this analysis instead reveals dynamics of centralization and the concentration of power, which threatens the existing modes of local water resource management and ignores the legal pluralism at play. The Palestinian water law of 2014 and the WUA regulations of 2018 are part of a policy to decentralize water resource management. This policy was promoted on an international scale with the concept of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM). It consists of encouraging users to participate in the decision-making process related to irrigation management. This is materialized in a desire to create WUAs, which are supposed to increase the participation of local actors. Local associations of irrigators or farmers existed long before the implementation of decentralization policies in the 1990’s, but they had no formal presence with regard to public authorities. This formalization, however, was not necessary for them to continue their activity. The case of Palestine reflects a strong investment by state institutions in water management rather than an increase in the participation of local communities in decision-making processes. The reform of the water sector in the Palestinian territories does not occur in an institutional and legal vacuum: several rules relating to irrigation management have coexisted in the past and continue to do so today. The regulation on Palestinian WUAs institutionalizes a specific type of association and delegitimizes informal irrigator institutions that do not meet the imposed criteria. Analyzing the new regulation on the creation of WUAs and comparing the decision-making trajectories of different modes of water management reveals that the so-called decentralization process actually leans more towards a centralization of water resource management.
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