Addressing Water Issues in the Region
Water & the Peace Process
Since the start of the Oslo process in 1993, all attempts at the peace process have been predicated on the belief that a comprehensive solution to the three most contentious issues – Jerusalem, borders and refugees – is possible.
Over the last 20 years, Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations have all been predicated on the conviction – prevalent on both sides – that a simultaneous solution to all of the conflict’s core issues can and must be found in order to reach a final status peace agreement. Under this approach, the equitable allocation and efficient management of Israeli / Palestinian natural shared waters have been held hostage to the failure to agree on the other final status issues.
A consensus is slowly being reached that the all or nothing approach has become part of the problem, and that moving forward on specific and solvable issues like water can help rebuild public trust that peace and end of hostilities are possible.
Water – Low political cost / High political gain
While the resolution of water related aspects will not alone bring about a comprehensive solution, any future final status agreement will not be complete without a fair and efficient allocation of the region’s fresh water resources. Moreover, due to the instrumental role of water and sanitation in social and economic development, the sustainability of any such agreement will be compromised in the absence of a joint mechanism for equitable allocation and efficient management of water resources.
Israeli leadership in desalination and wastewater treatment / reuse can be a political game changer not only in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but for the whole region. Israel today produces excess quantities of water so that no sector in the country will lose if Israel more fairly shares natural water with the Palestinians and continues to sell desalinated water to Jordan. Reaching a new agreement on shared natural water allocation between Israelis and Palestinians therefore comes at low political cost to Israel. Israeli farmers, who in the past would have had water quantities allocated to agriculture cut and therefore would have objected to such a move have no reason to object today. Furthermore, the Israeli government and public have become proud of their leading role in the water sector and increasingly see the trade in water as a strategic / security / stability issue.
The Palestinian government, on the other hand, should also be eager to show a measure of success in improving the lives of the Palestinian population. More water in every Palestinian home would dramatically improve the lives of every Palestinian and be a real boost to the Palestinian economy.
In light of this, there is much political, social and economic sense in moving forward first on water issues in the Israeli Palestinian political process. Such a move may be criticized as acquiescence to the existing political status quo; if crafted correctly, however, with the aim of rebuilding the trust between the two parties, the resolution of this relatively “easy” final status issue can pave the way for the revival of broader political issues.
The logic of a water-focused lead is further strengthened when one considers the broader instability of the region. With Syrian refugees continuing to flood into neighboring Jordan, finding shelter there, promoting water related economic opportunities for both the refugees and the local Jordanian population is paramount if we are to avoid further regional instability.
Advancing regional projects related to regional water issues with Jordan such as increased water trade and a Jordan Valley master plan, present additional opportunities to not only build Israeli/Palestinian trust, but integrate Israeli advances in the water sector to help stabilize the situation at a regional scale. By linking water and energy issues, Israeli and Palestinian natural gas and Jordanian renewable energy, we can advance stability through harnessing energy resources for the production of new water and thereby start to create a nexus of healthy interdependencies between all sides concerned.