January 11, 2018 – Water Security Conference – INSS

“Praying for Rain or Advancing Water Diplomacy? The Water Crises Facing the Region: Challenges and Opportunities for National Security

Click here for the Agenda of the conference

Click here for the Discussion paper released: Israeli Water Diplomacy and National Security Concerns

With the support of the Germany Embassy in Tel Aviv and in cooperation with the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), EcoPeace Middle East held a conference on the regional water crisis at the INSS in Tel Aviv. With the region increasingly threatened by climate change and facing its fifth consecutive drought year, the conference included keynote addresses and discussions on water security issues and their geopolitical implications at the bilateral and regional level. A new EcoPeace/INSS discussion paper on Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian water diplomacy efforts was released at the conference, with recommendations for policy makers.

Amb. Dr. Oded Eran, INSS Senior Researcher, and Mr. Georg Enzweiler, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the German Embassy in Israel, made the opening remarks. Mr. Enzweiler emphasized that water security is a very important issue on the security agenda in general and that “water crises can lead to national or regional conflicts and migration”.

Click here for a VIDEO of the above session.

The conference included a conversation between Mr. Giora Shacham, the Head of Israel Water Authority, and Mr. Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli Director of EcoPeace Middle East, on promoting water security in Israel and the region. Mr. Shacham spoke of the severity of the drought that hit the region and is now in its fifth consecutive year. He expressed dire concern for the situation in Gaza, stating that “Sea water entering the aquifer is irreversible. 90 percent of the water of the aquifer in Gaza which used to be of good quality, is no longer drinkable.” As to the water security risks to Israel he stated, “the sewage situation is no less dramatic impacting us (Israel), as the currents carry the sewage north to the intake of our desalination plant that from time to time closes because of the pollution.” He then continued with a call to the donor states to assist Jordanians and Palestinians: “I call on the international community to join efforts. Palestinians and Jordanians cannot do it alone because of the costs (…). Such assistance will be of great help to the poor population that is suffering a lot.”

Click here for a VIDEO of the above session.

MK Tzipi Livni, from the Zionist Union, presented a keynote speech, which addressed several issues, from climate change to the benefits of regional cooperation. She underlined the strategically important relations with Jordan and then commented on the water crisis in Gaza, stating: “The typical Israeli thinking is that we left Gaza and closed the gate, but Gaza is chasing us not only with missiles, Hamas and terror, but also chasing us with sewage, pollution and diseases that do not recognize borders.”

Click here for a VIDEO of the above session.

Following these remarks, Amb. Dr. Oded Eran hosted a conversation with former US Ambassador Daniel Shapiro and Mr. Anthony Rock from Global Water 2020. Mr. Shapiro described how the lack of a shared water security agenda failed the needs of both Israelis and the Palestinians. He mentioned the stalemate of the Joint Water Committee as an example and explained how major projects that both sides had a mutual interest in were being held hostage. He then referred to the “all or nothing” approach that has, so far, been prevalent on both sides and stated: “There is a great deal that can be done now, outside of any prospect of final status talks, which I hope we will ultimately see”. Expanding on Shapiro’s remarks, Mr. Rock stated that his biggest concern, at present, was the lack of movement at very practical levels, warning that “this can cause any donor nation or organisation to say that they will redirect their resources elsewhere”. He added, “We cannot afford that. We need collective commitment” and further stating that “we as donor nations should prepare ourselves, but we should also act now (…), the time is now and this is when the action needs to occur.

Click here for a VIDEO of the above session.

Two Key Report Presentations followed this conversation, the first being presented by Shiri Milo Loker, from the Office of the State Comptroller of Israel, on Transboundary Water Pollution. Ms. Loker pointed out that water pollution is Israel’s most severe transboundary environmental hazard. She stressed that “the pollution of groundwater and streams is a threat to the population in three main aspects: available water, public health and quality of life, and ecological systems”. She then spoke of the results of the State Comptroller audit stating: “the reports general conclusion is that we found that there was no government policy for cross-border environmental management (in Israel), no coordination between government bodies, and no effective conduct vis a vis international players. So we recommended an inter-ministerial team to make a comprehensive government plan to formulate government policies, to enable complex problem solving, and encourage donor states to fund the projects.

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Building on the outcomes of the State Comptroller Report, Dr. Giulia Giordano presented the latest EcoPeace – INSS joint discussion paper Israeli Water Diplomacy and National Security Concerns. In her presentation, Giordano emphasized that Israeli-Palestinian water relations could be greatly improved by adopting a broad water security mindset: “Conditions of water insecurity can trigger social tensions, lead to uprisings, and pose a threat both internally at a domestic level, and to bordering states at a regional level. By advancing water diplomacy, states can enhance water security, build regional cooperation and contribute to peace and stability.”

Click here for a VIDEO of the above session.

Mr. Uri Ginot hosted an in-depth discussion with a perspective from the ‘Gaza Envelope’ with Mayor Yair Farjun, from the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council. Mr. Farjun, one of the signatories of a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defence Minister Lieberman (Click here for the letter in Hebrew or English translation) on the implications of transboundary pollution from Gaza, stated: “Is (Gaza’s water and sanitation crisis) only Gaza’s problem? Only my problem? (a problem for) both of us? Of course it is. We breathe the same air, we swim in the same sea and drink from the same aquifer. It’s one system. (…) As Israelis, we need to see what actions can be taken on our side to help the other side and how through organizations like yours (EcoPeace) can help preserve the resources that are most important to our existence.”

Finally Prof. Adver Adin from the Hebrew University also presented his ‘Broader Thoughts on Regional Water Management’, where he shared important lessons on water technologies and governance.

Dr. Oded Eran and Mr. Gidon Bromberg gave concluding remarks. Bromberg addressed Israeli decision makers and stated: “The water insecurity of our neighbours is part of our own national security concerns. With all the challenges that we face internally we can’t ignore water insecurity across the green line when we all share the same water resources. If we choose the blame game it doesn’t really help us in the end.” These statements were reinforced by Dr. Eran who stated: “Nothing good is coming in the way of this region unless we cooperate on a regional level, and today we are giving some answers to this issue.”

Click here for the VIDEO of these last sessions.