Rivers of Conflict, Rivers of Peace
Lowi, Miriam R., Journal of International Affairs
In arid and semi-arid regions of the world where water scarcity is a fact of life, the search for water punctuates the history of communities and mediates their political relations. Fresh water is vital for human survival, yet its availability is uneven and substitutes do not exist. The struggle for access to, and control over, water supplies has consistently provoked tensions and conflict between communities and nations.
However, if the parties involved in the struggle for access to scarce water were to perceive a mutual benefit in sharing the resource, then perhaps that resource could become the vehicle for cementing cooperative relations among them. In part this is what political functionalists during and following the Second World War were suggesting as a solution to international conflict: Peace could be achieved if ways were found for adversarial states to collaborate in technical and other non-political matters.(1) Over time, continuous cooperation in technical areas would bind states together in such a way that their political differences would recede in importance and eventually disappear. The former adversaries would come to realize that there was far more to gain from peaceful relations.
Unfortunately, the record of technical collaboration among adversarial states spilling over into political cooperation is far more sobering than the idealists of mid-century would have us believe.(2) Furthermore, political conflicts are sometimes so visceral and primordial that they simply cannot be ignored; over the course of their duration, they become an inextricable part of the identities of the parties involved. Under such circumstances, technical collaboration cannot be facilitated; rather it must await political settlement.
The Middle East is the most water-poor region of the globe, with the world's lowest per capita consumption of water. The problem attendant to water scarcity is particularly acute in the Middle East, as the region has one of the fastest growing populations. In addition, there are a number of rivers in this region that traverse international boundaries established during the 20th century, and that have become a focus of interstate tensions.
Per Capita Surface Water Availability in the Jordan and Euphrates Basins, 1990(3)
Total Per Capita Water/year Population Water (bcm) (millions) (cubic meters) Iraq 91.20 17.0 5364 Israel 1.95 4.6 424 Jordan 0.77 3.3 233 Lebanon 4.80 2.7 1600 Syria 23.00 13.0 1769 Turkey 100.00 55.0 1818 West Bank/ Gaza 0.20 1.8 111
In this article, I discuss two transboundary river basins in the Middle East: the Jordan River basin, which includes Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank; and the Euphrates River Basin, which includes Iraq, Syria and Turkey. In these basins, no binding arrangements for sharing the waters exist, yet some form of cooperation is imperative in order to meet the immediate and long-term needs of the states and peoples in question. The article is divided into four sections. I begin by outlining the prevailing views regarding how best to develop and manage the waters of a transboundary river basin. I explain why unitary basin-wide development under some form of supranational authority is considered optimal, and I describe the record to date in achieving this goal. In the second section, I focus on the Jordan and Euphrates River basins; I describe their geopolitical settings, outline the history of efforts to achieve cooperative solutions to water development and management, and analyze outcomes. I then summarize the obstacles to cooperation, emphasizing the preferences of the riparian states in each basin. In the third section, I consider the current Middle East peace process and evaluate how it has already changed, and is likely to change, the water issues that divide the players in the two basins. I conclude the article with some thoughts on what could be achieved with cooperation in water resource development and management, and what is at stake without it. But I remind the reader that the history of the Jordan waters conflict suggests that states engaged in protracted conflict of the sort that persists in the Jordan and Euphrates River basins are not likely to agree to share water resources cooperatively in the absence of a solution to their political conflict. Hence, prospects for cooperation in the Jordan River basin hold out more hope today than ever before, while the future of the Euphrates River basin continues to appear bleak.(4)
The Development and Management of International River
Basins in Theory and in Practice
Geography suggests that, by virtue of its physical unity, a river basin should be developed as a single, indivisible whole, irrespective of political divisions. This is because water binds land areas together as it flows toward an outlet, and interference with the water and its movement at any point has repercussions elsewhere in the basin. The water in question is a shared resource, and it can be considered a common-property resource within the river basin. Like a public good, a common-property resource is supplied jointly and no party can be excluded from access to it. But unlike a public good, the use of the common-property resources by one party does detract from the benefits enjoyed by all others.
From the point of view of economic efficiency as well, the basin should be treated as a unit; in that way, "a careful inventory of soils, feasibility of irrigation and drainage, values of alternative crops, domestic and industrial water needs, could be factored into a basin-wide model that might...yield an 'optimal pattern' of water utilization"(5)
Indeed, the development and management of the river basin as a unit has been widely advocated by engineers, planners, politicians and jurists. Moreover, since the 1940s, unitary basin-wide development of water resources under some system of supranational authority has been adopted and implemented in multinational agreements in several river basins, including the Rio Grande, the Mekong and the Senegal.
But while ties of geography suggest the unitary development of a river basin, contingent of history may impede the process. One reason is that states are reluctant to relinquish control over land and other resources that lie, even partially, within their borders. In an effort to maximize their individual gains, states ate more inclined to exploit transnational resources unilaterally, irrespective of the preferences of other legitimate beneficiaries. Hence, the challenge in international river basins is to reach cooperative, basin-wide solutions to the provision of the common property resource and enhance the benefits to all.
Historically, the record of implementation of cooperative basin-wide arrangements has been mixed. In the case of the Nile River, for example a supranational authority, the permanent Joint Technical Commissions, was established with the signing of the Agreement for the Full Utilization of the Nile Water in 1959. And while it meets regularly and has managed the river system according to the stipulations of the Agreement, the Commission represents only two of the ten riparian states - Egypt and the Sudan, the signatories of the treaty. It is neither a basin-wide agreement, nor a basin-wide authority. Moreover, the Agreement reflects most strongly the preferences of the dominant party, Egypt.
In the case of the Indus River, a basin-wide agreement was reached in 1960 between India and Pakistan, and a supranational authority, the Permanent Indus Commission, was established. This was possible, however, only after an imaginative hydro-engineering feat had been accomplished: The river system was physically partitioned between the two states, much as the subcontinent had been, so that there would be no interdependence and no interaction between the adversaries.
In studying conflicts in international river basins, it is important to remember that a number of hydro-strategic facts govern the basin and affect politics within it. First, not only does water flow, but it does not respect political boundaries. Moreover, upstream states, by exploiting within their territory the waters of a river that traverses international boundaries, can diminish the quantity and the quality of water available to states downstream. Upstream states can starve out downstream states by cutting off their water supply, or they can pollute the waters downstream by dumping toxic waste into the river. Thus, upstream states - such as India on the Indus, Turkey on the Euphrates, Israel on the Jordan (since June 1967) and Syria on the Yarmouk - are in an advantageous position. In the absence of a basin-wide agreement, these states can alter the river flow in their territory, and the downstream states must suffer the consequences. Given their superior position, upstream states have no direct interest in unitary river basin development. With a basin-wide accord, their activities on the river would be hamstrung. Hence, the challenge in international river basins is to get states to forego their unilateral advantage for the sake of the interests of all riparians. The ideal solution is a basin-wide agreement that stipulates how the waters are to be shared and managed, and what kinds of activities on the river and with the river waters are to be permitted.
Two Basins in Search of a Regime
1. Jordan River Basin
The Jordan River basin is shared by four countries: Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. It consists of four principal tributaries that are the headwaters of the river system, and one stem - the Upper and Lower Jordan. The Hasbani, Dan and Banias tributaries rise in Lebanon, Israel and Syria, respectively, and flow south to form the Upper Jordan River located in Israeli territory. The Upper Jordan flows into Lake Tiberias, the only natural reservoir within the basin. The western and southeastern shores of the lake are in Israel, while the northeastern shore is in the Syrian Golan Heights. The Yarmouk, the largest of the four principal tributaries, rises in Syria and flows south and then east into the Lower Jordan River. The Yarmouk forms the boundary between Jordan and Syria, and then, further downstream, between Jordan and Israel, before flowing into the Lower Jordan. The Lower Jordan forms the boundary between Jordan and Israel in the north and south. In the center, it forms the boundary between Jordan and the West Bank, which was under Jordanian control from 1949 until June 1967. The Lower Jordan discharges into the Dead Sea, which is shared by Jordan to the east and the West Bank and Israel to the west.
In June 1967, the geopolitical map of the basin changed considerably, to Israel's strategic advantage. Insofar as water resources were concerned, the gains to Israel were substantial. By occupying the Golan Heights, Israel was able to control the headwaters of the Banias tributary in the north and the entire eastern shore of Lake Tiberias. Israel also controlled about 20 percent of the northern shore of the Yarmouk, as opposed to about 10 percent before the war. The Hasbani, the only remaining northern source of the Jordan system outside Israel's command, came under effective Israeli control between 1978 and 1982, since a portion of it lies within Israel's self-proclaimed "security zone" in southern Lebanon. Hence, in terms of the Jordan River proper, by the early 1980s Israel was in the advantageous position of upstream riparian in the basin.
Furthermore, with its occupation of the West Bank, Israel came to share a longer border with the Kingdom of Jordan along the Jordan River. The rich groundwater sources of that territory are now within Israel's jurisdiction. Well before 1967, however, the state had become dependent on the waters of the Yarqon-Taninim (or "mountain") aquifer in the West Bank. In fact, since the mid-1950s, between one-quarter and one-third of Israeli water consumption has originated in rainfall over the western slopes of the territory and has been drawn by drilling inside the "Green Line" - the 1949 Armistice Demarcation Line - from the same aquifer system that contains the water reserves for the West Bank. While Israel did have access to these subterranean sources prior to 1967, by virtue of the fact that the waters flow naturally westward toward the Coastal Plain, occupation has allowed the state to monitor their utilization within the West Bank proper, thereby ensuring that they remain available for Israeli consumption.
Cooperative Efforts in the Jordan River Basin
In the aftermath of the first Arab-israeli War of 1948-49, both Israel and Jordan set out to improve their socioeconomic development in order to support the tremendous population increases that had resulted from that war. Given the fact that the Jordan River system was the only large body of water available, both states independently formulated projects that made use of it. And both states turned to the United States government for assistance in implementing their unilateral projects.
In an effort to mitigate the acute tensions in the region, the U.S. government began to promote a basin-wide project - the Unified Development of the Water Resources of the Jordan Valley Region - that included the four riparian states. Not only was this project considered optimal in terms of economic efficiency and human welfare, but the Eisenhower Administration also thought that if the enemy states could cooperate in sharing and managing such a vital resource, this technical collaboration could eventually inspire a political settlement. This position echoed that of political functionalists who argued that peace could be achieved by fostering interdependence between adversaries in technical matters.(6) Mutual dependence and continuous interaction in this domain would eventually cause states to realize that harmonious political relations were not simply the next logical step, but could also be mutually advantageous.
From 1953 to 1956, President Eisenhower's special envoy, Eric Johnston, met on several occasions with teams from the four riparian states and Egypt, with a view to securing agreement to the Unified Development Plan.(7) Throughout the negotiating process, however, there were serious disagreements over water allocations and their destinations, as well as conflicting views of rights, needs and international legal precedents. In essence, the Arab states were concerned about becoming dependent on Israel and having to rely on its goodwill to gain access to water. Israel was chiefly concerned about international supervision of the water distribution and management scheme and the resultant constraints on its national sovereignty. Eventually, many of the contentious issues were resolved and both parties - Israel on the one hand, and Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria on the other - agreed that as a hydro-engineering study, the basin-wide project was acceptable. However, only the Arab League, the regional organization representing the Arab states, had the authority to make the final decision. After lengthy deliberations, the League determined that within the prevailing political context, the project could not be approved. There could be no collaboration with Israel in sharing and managing water resources prior to a political settlement of the Arab-israeli conflict. Thus, the Unified Development Plan came to rest.
In the absence of a basin-wide agreement, both Israel and Jordan, the parties that would have benefitted most from the Unified Plan, independently and unilaterally developed those parts of the river system that were found within their respective territories. Israel embarked on the National Water Carrier system of pipelines from the northern tip of Lake Tiberias to the southern reaches of the country. Jordan began work laying the East Ghor Canal to transport Yarmouk River water to the Jordan Valley and beyond.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, efforts were made, once again, to reach a cooperative solution for developing water resources in the region. This time, the damming of the Yarmouk River was the objective. The Maqarin Dam Project was planned as a Jordanian-syrian irrigation and hydro-electric scheme based on joint exploitation of the Yarmouk waters for the benefit of both sides of the common border. The Jordanian government had been wanting to dam the river since the early 1950s, so that the winter flow could be impounded for use during the dry season. By the late 1970s, acute population pressures and rapidly increasing demand made the project indispensable.
The U.S. government, under the Carter administration, immediately took an interest in the Maqarin Dam Project. As had been the case during the Johnston mission in the 1950s, the U.S. government perceived regional water development as a stepping stone to regional peace, given that projects would require multilateral cooperation in the use of water resources. Thus, when Jordan petitioned the U.S. to help finance the bilateral project, the administration insisted that it would provide assistance only if Jordan secured the approval of the other two riparian states, Syria upstream and Israel downstream.(8)
Between 1976 and 1981, the Maqarin Dam Project was on the negotiating table, helped along for some of that period by the shuttle diplomacy of former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Philip Habib. Again, the negotiations were fraught with difficulties. Not only did Israel insist on a much larger allocation of Yarmouk water than what Jordan was prepared to offer, but it also claimed the right to take Yarmouk water to the West Bank - most likely to supply Jewish settlements.
Because the dam was perceived to be vital to Jordan's continued survival, it may have conceded eventually to some modified version of Israel's demands and overlooked some of the more troublesome demands. However, the Syrian government would not respond to any overtures regarding a trilateral water-sharing plan. It soon became clear that Syria would not agree to a project that entailed any form of cooperation with Israel, nor would it engage in a scheme that would be located within reach of Israeli artillery. The Syrian leadership was acutely aware that hydraulic installations were tempting military targets in conflict situations.(9) Undoubtedly, Hafiz al-Assad was also profoundly concerned about the sophisticated military installations on the Euphrates River in northern Syria. Thus, much to the chagrin of the Jordanians, the project was abandoned.(10)
The experience with the Maqarin Dam Project, as with the earlier Unified Development Plan, elucidates the proposition that regional conflict hinders the resolution of water disputes in international river basins. This is because states that are engaged in a protracted conflict - especially one that involves such visceral issues as identity, recognition of identity, territorial claims and sovereignty - are often reluctant to collaborate on seemingly technical matters when larger political concerns remain unresolved. To the adversaries, technical collaboration may be viewed as a disavowal of those issues that fuel the conflict. Hence, an end to a riparian dispute requires the prior resolution of a political conflict, or considerable progress in that direction, and not vice versa. This finding refutes the position and efforts of previous U.S. Administrations. In fact, regional development of water resources in the Jordan basin could not be resolved precisely because of the inter-state conflict.
The situation on the West Bank is somewhat more complex. There, the Israeli authorities have controlled water distribution and management since their occupation of the territory during the 1967 war. This arrangement favors Israel, since about 40 percent of the country's sustainable annual supply of groundwater and 25 percent of its total renewable fresh water resources originate in the West Bank.
Of the three main aquifer groups upon which Israel is dependent, only one, the Coastal Aquifer, is located in Israel, while the other two originate in occupied territory. The most abundant of the three groundwater basins, the "mountain" aquifer, extends from north to south along the western foothills of the West Bank. Its natural recharge flows west across the "Green Line" into Israel's coastal plain. The least abundant, consisting of those aquifer groups in the northern portion of the West Bank, also drain an area across the "Green Line". Both the western and the northern basins can be tapped from either side of the "Green Line". Another group of aquifers, the smallest of the West Bank water tables, forms the eastern drainage basin. Its water does not traverse the "Green Line" and, hence, cannot be exploited outside the territory.
It is important to note that, largely because of Israel's West Bank water policies, the consumption of water by the territory's Arab population in the 1980s was not allowed to exceed 18 percent of total availability. Today, Arab consumption is approximately 15 percent of total availability.(11) Hence, the remaining 82 to 85 percent, less what is lost to evaporation or surface run-off, represents the amount that can be exploited by the Jewish settler population and beyond the West Bank.
The policy set forth by Israel's Water Commission Administration allows Arabs in the West Bank a total consumption of 125 to 130 mcm per annum (out of about 650 mcm), plus modest increases for population growth. To ensure that this policy is respected, the Israeli government has adopted stringent measures to closely monitor and control the Arab population in this regard. For example, no Arab individual or village has received permission to drill a new well for agricultural purposes since July 1967, nor to repair one that is in close proximity to an Israeli well. Water allocations to Arab agriculture have remained at their 1968 level of about 100 mcm, with only a slight margin of growth. Moreover, strict limits have been placed on the amount of water that can be pumped annually from each well, while meters fixed to wells monitor the amounts extracted.
When comparing Arab and Israeli usage of West Bank water, the effects of these policies are glaring. For example, in 1989, the cultivated area of Jewish settlements represented less than five percent of the total cultivated area of the West Bank. However, as much as 90 percent of the Jewish cultivated area is irrigated, as opposed to only 2.5 percent of the Arab cultivated area. The most striking differential in water use can be found in the Jordan Valley. There, Jewish settlers who farm one-quarter of the cultivated area use 45 percent of the water in the valley consumed by agriculture. In contrast, Arab farmers, with three times as much cultivated land, are able to consume only slightly more water (55 percent). Furthermore, Jewish settlers consume four times more water per capita than do West Bank Arabs: about 368 liters per capita per day, as opposed to roughly 88 liters in the West Bank.(12)
Major Challenges and Concerns of Parties with
Regard to Cooperation in the Basin
Just as the conflict over water in the Jordan River basin changed significantly after the 1967 War, so did the interests of the parties when considering cooperation. In the 1950s, Israel's major concerns were twofold: first, to secure Arab recognition of the status quo in the aftermath of the 1948-49 War, in the form of bilateral peace treaties between Israel and the Arab states; and second, to secure access to quantities of water that would allow the state to implement its ambitious development schemes. Israel was anxious for a basin-wide accord once its demands for access were met, in the hope that a water agreement would pave the way for bilateral or multilateral peace treaties.
Of the Arab riparians, Jordan was most interested in reaching an agreement with Israel. Given its riparian position and relatively poor resource endowment, Jordan had the greatest need for access to the Jordan River water. Besides, its population had trebled within four years of the 1948-49 War, and Palestinian refugees continued to settle in Jordan thereafter. Because of its acute need, Jordan, in the 1950s, may have been prepared to overlook some of the larger political concerns of the Arabs with regard to Israel. However, given that it was a relatively weak state in the region and certainly the weakest of the Arab riparians, Jordan was forced to submit to the dominant voices within the Arab League.
Lebanon and Syria, in contrast, had less need for a Jordan River development plan, since they both had access to relatively abundant water sources within their own national borders. This being the case, they regarded the Jordan system rather like a geopolitically strategic resource vis-a-vis Israel downstream. Had they had greater need for the Jordan waters, they may have been more inclined to negotiate a deal, even with the enemy. Indeed, the interest in securing access to water may have taken precedence over political concerns regarding cooperation, as was the case with Jordan.
Due to the geopolitical outcome of the 1967 War, the concerns of the riparian states have changed considerably. Israel is no longer interested in a basin-wide accord, largely because such an agreement would impinge upon the advantages it reaps as a result of its superior riparian position on the main trunk of the Jordan River, its sovereignty over Lake Tiberias - the only natural reservoir within the river system - and its control over the West Bank groundwater reserves. However, Israel has continued to insist that it be recognized as a party to all the main tributaries of the basin. Thus, any scheme to develop the Yarmouk River waters or the Lower Jordan must also engage Israel.
As for Jordan, it has focused its attention on damming the Yarmouk waters in order to store the winter flow for use during the long, dry summer months. Jordan is resigned to the fact that it must deal with Israel, largely because of geogaphic proximity and the latter's superior power resources. Given that the two countries share a long border as well as a number of vital resources, Jordan is simply not in a position to ignore the preferences of Israel. Syria, on the other hand, maintains a position of non-cooperation with Israel. This is a fairly innocuous position given that, in the absence of an agreement on the Golan Heights, there are few immediately obvious incentives for Syria to cooperate.
2. Euphrates River Basin
The Euphrates River rises in the mountains of southeastern Turkey and flows through the territories of Turkey, Syria and Iraq before emptying into the Shatt al-arab waterway. Twenty-eight percent of the basin lies in Turkey (the uppermost riparian), 17 percent lies in Syria (the middle riparian), and 40 percent lies in Iraq (the downstream riparian).
Of the three riparians, Turkey enjoys the greatest water endowment; average annual precipitation is adequate for rain-fed agriculture. However, the irregular spatial and temporal distribution of water makes storage imperative. Since the mid-1960s, Turkey has been actively engaged in damming the Euphrates River, most notably through the Guneydogu Anadolu Projesi (GAP project), also referred to as the Southeast Anatolia Development Project. The project is a massive water management scheme that involves dam building, diversions and the extension of irrigated agriculture in the southeastern portion of the country.(13) In contrast to Turkey's relative abundance, more than half of Syrian territory gets less than 250 millimeters of rainfall per year - the minimum amount needed for rain-fed agriculture. Dependence on the Euphrates is great: The river alone accounts for as much as 86 percent of the water available to the country. As for Iraq, almost two-thirds of the country is desert; thus, agricultural production is highly dependent upon the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers for irrigation water.
Cooperative Efforts in the Basin
There has been a need for basin-wide agreement since the mid-1960s, when upstream use of the Euphrates flow began to put pressure on downstream consumption practices. There have been several unsuccessful attempts at promoting a tripartite accord, but in every instance, the tense political relations in the basin have impeded cooperative outcomes. Syria and Turkey have a simmering territorial dispute concerning Alexandretta (the Hatay province) that dates back to the Mandate period. In recent years, the two countries have been at odds over the Kurdish insurgency movement. Furthermore, the Ba'athi rulers in Syria and Iraq have been engaged in a highly acrimonious, personalistic conflict since 1968. On a number of occasions, tensions have been so acute (including the transfer of troops to border zones) that third parties have intervened. And while the crises were defused and warfare averted, no agreement has ever been signed and the water dispute remains unresolved.
Indeed, no progress has been made at reaching a tripartite agreement on water sharing, despite the fact that in 1980, all three riparians agreed to establish a technical commission to facilitate the exchange of information.(14) In 1984, Iraq agreed with Turkey to accept a minimum flow of 500 cubic meters per second from the Euphrates River, but Syria refused to negotiate at the time. In July 1987, Syria and Turkey negotiated a protocol that, among other things, guaranteed Syria 500 cubic meters per second as well, although no reference was made to the earlier agreement with Iraq. Then, in 1993, Syria and Turkey reaffirmed their commitment to the protocol and announced that the allocations therein would become operational that same year.(15) Two years later, the status quo ante persists. Turkey has made Syria's receipt of Euphrates water contingent upon its behavior vis-a-vis the Kurds. That is to say, if Syria continues to support the efforts of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) against the Turkish government and harbor its members, Turkey will reduce the amount of Euphrates water flowing into Syria.
Major Challenges and Concerns of Parties
with Regard to Cooperation in the Basin
In recent years, the water dispute in the Euphrates basin has become far more critical, as the stakes have increased significantly. Work on the GAP project is well under way, and the planned withdrawal of as much as 14 to 17 bcm from the Euphrates promises much hardship downstream. Syria's ability to generate hydropower will be curtailed by the depleted water levels; its ability to extend irrigated agriculture will be hampered by both the depleted water levels and the inferior quality of the water that is reintroduced into the system. Iraq, which must contend with the water engineering schemes of both upstream states, will have to forfeit part of its intake from the Euphrates, and settle for water of inferior quality as well.(16) The country will be hard-pressed to meet consumption demand in its part of the basin, and it will no longer have at its disposal the large volumes of fresh water with which to reclaim its highly saline soils.
To date, no progress has been made in reaching a tripartite agreement on watersharing. Turkey's massive resource management schemes could be curtailed only by a basin-wide accord. However, Syria and Iraq, which would gain considerably from an accord, remain unable to pursue negotiations with each other, to say nothing of their inability to ally against the upstream riparian. Furthermore, in recent years there has been little outside encouragement for regional cooperation.
Of the three riparian states, Turkey has the absolute advantage. In addition to being the upstream riparian, it also enjoys military superiority. Given its status in the basin, it is unrealistic to expect Turkey to support the creation of a cooperative water distribution and management regime with Syria and Iraq, since such a regime would constrain its maneuverability. There is no doubt that Syria and Iraq could gain considerably from a basin-wide accord. Failing that, the two downstream states would benefit from bilateral cooperation to counterbalance Turkey.(17) This, however, would require a favorable political climate.
The Peace Process and Middle Eastern River Basins
In the aftermath of the 1990-91 Gulf War, a Middle East peace process was initiated at a conference in Madrid in the Fall of 1991. At the first round of talks, water was recognized as one of five substantive issues of concern to both the Arab states and Israel; a water resources working group was created within the framework of the multilateral track of the peace process.(18) The intention was that the multilateral meetings would support and complement the bilateral meetings and that progress at the technical level in the working groups would inspire the political negotiations, and vice versa. The conveners of the peace conference also hoped that technical agreements could be arrived at and implemented even before a positive conclusion of the bilateral negotiations.
By March 1995, the water resources working group had met seven times: in Moscow in January 1992, in Vienna in May 1992, in Washington in September 1992, in Geneva in April 1993, in Beijing in October 1993, in Muscat in April 1994, and in Athens in November 1994. It would be fair to say that, until the Rabin-Arafat signing of the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements at the White House on 13 September 1993, there had been little substantive progress in the water resources working group.(19) Both sides, but especially the Arabs, were reluctant to approve any cooperative activity in the absence of progress in the bilateral meetings and "on the ground" towards a political settlement of the core issue of dispute - the future status of the territories occupied by Israel in 1967.
Since the signing of the Declaration of Principles, however, the atmosphere in the working group has improved significantly, and some progress has been made. Team members have begun to think in the long term and to entertain the possibility of continued interactions and some joint water projects. Nonetheless, the question of regional and basin-wide cooperation remains a thorny one, largely because of the lack of political commitment on the part of all parties to the conflict thus far. It may be that a basin-wide accord awaits a political settlement that includes peace treaties between the Arab states and Israel.
On 26 October 1994, Israel and Jordan signed the Treaty of Peace. Not only did this end the state of war between the two countries, it also opened up an era of cooperation in a number of areas, including water resources. In fact, the treaty lays out the terms of a water agreement. But while Jordan publicly,hails the treaty's water-related provisions in Annex II as an important breakthrough, Israel will continue to enjoy about the same amount of Yarmouk water as it has thus far; Jordan will receive an additional amount of no more than 40 to 50 mcm of water per annum and will forego its longstanding intent to build a dam on the Yarmouk River.(20) Nonetheless, the agreement stipulates that the two parties will work together to explore alternative water sources, share resources and solicit funding from international agencies for their joint efforts. At first glance, it appears that the weak party has given in to the strong; however, Annex II may provide the groundwork for a future of cooperation, and therein lies its value.
There is no doubt that a combination of factors urged Jordan to sign a peace treaty with Israel. For one, the economic hardship that has beset the Kingdom since the Gulf War has not waned, and King Hussein must have felt that there would be no relief until there was peace with Israel. Moreover, the signing of the Declaration of Principles by Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasir Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin created an opportunity for Jordan to try to reach a settlement with Israel. In this way, cooperative arrangements that Jordan may have hoped for and planned for in the past could finally be implemented. Indeed, for approximately one year prior to the signing of the treaty, teams from Jordan and Israel had been meeting on a regular basis with the United States in a Trilateral Economic Committee to discuss technical issues of mutual concern. Nonetheless, for a variety of reasons having to do with its status in the Arab world and its historical relationship with the Palestinians, Jordan would not have taken the initiative to sign an agreement with Israel before the Palestinian leadership did so.(21)
Compared to the situation between Israel and Jordan, prospects for a cooperative solution to West Bank water issues are grim, given that such a large proportion of the water consumed in Israel derives from groundwater that originates in the West Bank and that consumption of this source predates the Israeli occupation of the territory. Equally significant is the fact that the three subterranean basins represent the most important fresh-water supply in the West Bank, and thus they are essential for the future socioeconomic development of that area.
If at some point in the future, the "Green Line" (or something approximating it) becomes the border between Israel and a Palestinian state, two of the three groundwater basins in the West Bank would likely be considered international basins, as defined by international groundwater law, given that their waters flow naturally across the border. This would obligate Israel and Palestine to negotiate a division of the subterranean sources based on the principle of equitable and reasonable use.(22) Both sides would likely have very definite views on what is fair, reasonable and equitable. It may be possible, nonetheless, to establish objective criteria for determining entitlements that would be mutually acceptable.(23) Surely, individuals with technical expertise in the Middle East and elsewhere will continue to offer an array of creative solutions for sharing the waters of the West Bank, as well as of the Jordan River basin. Needless to say, the implementation of solutions will have to be preceded either by a final settlement on the question of Palestinian statehood, or by considerable progress in that direction. There seems little reason to believe that water issues could be resolved - although different scenarios certainly could be debated - in the absence of at least credible and tangible guarantees for the Palestinian people.
As for the Euphrates River basin, the water dispute remains at an impasse. In the 1980s, international financial institutions thought that they could force a basin-wide agreement when they announced to the Turkish government, in response to the latter's request for funding, that they would support the GAP project only once it was formally accepted by the other two riparian states. This is one of the conditions that the World Bank, for example, places on its involvement in projects in international basins. However, Turkey was not deterred; it quickly began financing the project from its own sources.
Moreover, the Syrian-Iraqi relationship gives Turkey virtually carte blanche to pursue, undisturbed, its massive water management scheme in southeastern Anatolia. The isolation of Iraq in the aftermath of the Gulf War has also worked in Turkey's favor. It is difficult to predict whether the Middle East peace process will have much effect on the Syrian-Iraqi relationship. It may be that with the termination of a conflict that has fueled not only Arab-Israeli relations, but also inter-Arab relations, for nearly half a century, Arab regimes may become concerned with sorting out other conflicts that have been festering with debilitating consequences. But by that time, the GAP project may be nearing completion and taking its toll downstream.
Conclusion: Why Cooperate?
It is important to bear in mind just how little water there is in Israel, Jordan and the West Bank. This, coupled with the rising demands of states and peoples in arid and semi-arid regions, with high population growth rates and considerable dependence on agriculture, illuminates the extent to which margins are narrow in the development and utilization of water resources.
Scarcity begs for unitary basin-wide development. As noted above, this is the ideal solution to the competing needs and conflicting interests in an international river basin. Moreover, given that water is a common property resource, one party could utilize it in such a way as to diminish the quantity and/or quality to other legitimate users. This is especially likely to occur when demand is great and growing, while supply is severely constrained, as is the case in dry climate conditions. Hence, cooperation among legitimate users of the resource is imperative.
Furthermore, if it became apparent that the waters of the basin were insufficient to meet the needs of the basin states - as in the Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian arena - then a variety of additional solutions could be considered. Technological solutions at the national level in the form of water augmentation and management systems is one obvious avenue to explore. To date, the Israelis and the Jordanians have independently pursued a number of such techniques: cloud-seeding, desalination, wastewater reuse and dam-building. Clearly, if these techniques were to be implemented cooperatively, they could have a greater mutual benefit. Solutions with an international dimension could also be explored. For one, water could be "imported" from outside the immediate area. This technique has proven to be very popular among those who have sought to resolve the water crisis in the central Middle East; the past decade has witnessed a flurry of research activity in the area of water transfers, resulting in a host of imaginative schemes to transport water from relatively wet zones.(24) However, since the region in question is an arid and semi-arid zone in which margins are narrow and demands are great, the objective should be to attain the greatest mutual advantage and mitigate the suffering of all concerned. Providing benefits to one at the expense of another is no solution; it is a recipe for war and continued hardship.
While water is a scarce resource in the Middle East, human ingenuity is not. Whether by themselves or in conjunction with others, the peoples of the Middle East will find creative and effective ways to enhance their water resource endowment and meet their development needs. Intra-regional solutions may be the most effective ones.(25) For example, one could envision the trade of oil for water in the Middle East. Certainly, that is a logical possibility for Iraq and Turkey at some future date. One could also envision the Gulf states financing desalination schemes in the Mashreq. However, all except for unilateral solutions require a favorable political climate. And that may be the scarcest and most nefarious of scarce resources.
Given the stresses on water supplies in Israel, Jordan, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, basin-wide, and ultimately region-wide, arrangements for sharing, utilizing and managing water are crucial for human welfare and long-term stability. History shows that a political settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict is the essential first step. (1) For functionalist theory see David Mitrany, A Working Peace System (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1966 [first published in 19431]); J.P. Sewell, Functionalism and World Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966). (2) While rivers have facilitated cooperative relations and enhanced the potential for regional integration (such as the Rhine and the Danube in Europe since the Second World War and the Mekong in Southeast Asia), rivers can also play a role in regional disintegration. This has been the case with the Indus River in South Asia at the time of Partition, the Mekong at different times in history and the Drina in Bosnia most recently. (3) This table is compiled from various sources. Note that total water availability in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is 650 to 700 million cubic meters (mcm) per annum, but the Palestinian population has, according to some sources, effective access to no more than 200 mcm of it. (4) Some of the data and argumentation in this paper derives from the author's earlier works, most notably, Water and Power: the Politics of a Scarce Resource in the Jordan River Basin (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993 and 1995) and "Bridging the Divide: Transboundary Resource Disputes and the Case of West Bank Water," International Security, 18, no. 1 (Summer 1993) pp. 113-38. (5) John Waterbury, "Dynamics of Basin-wide Cooperation in the Utilization of the Euphrates," paper prepared for the conference, The Economic Development of Syria: Problems, Progress, and Prospects, Damascus, 6 to 7 January 1990, p. 1. (6) Mitrany. (7) Although Egypt was not a party to the Jordan waters, it was the strongest and most influential Arab state of the time. Largely because of the persona of Gamal 'Abd al-Nasir, Egypt was considered to be the leader of the Arab world. Therefore, Egypt was included as a participant in discussions of this and related matters. (8) While Syria had signed the bilateral treaty, it would be necessary to seek Syria's approval for then-president Carter's suggestion of a new trilateral arrangement. (9) In June 1967, the construction of another dam - the Mukheiba - on the Yarmouk River was stopped by Israeli military intervention. The preliminary work on the Arab scheme in Syrian territory to divert the headwaters of the Jordan system succumbed to Israeli gunfire during the mid-1960s. Jordan's East Ghor Canal was knocked out of service by Israeli forces on four separate occasions between 1967 and 1971. (10) The project was temporarily revived in 1987 in the form of a considerably smaller dam at a different site on the river. Jordan and Syria signed a treaty to build the Unity (al-Wahdah) dam, and Jordan petitioned the World Bank to finance the project. Once again, assistance was conditional upon reaching basin-wide agreement. To this end, then U.S. Secretary of State James Baker appointed Richard Artmitrage as the U.S. mediator between Israel and Jordan. (The U.S. government refused to include Syria in the talks at that time because of the poor relations it had with that regime.) Bilateral negotiations continued until August 1990, at which point Iraq invaded Kuwait. (11) For data on water consumption for the Occupied Territories, see Stephen C. Lonergan and David B. Brooks, Watershed: The Role of Fresh Water in the Israeli-palestinian Conflict (Ottawa, Canada: International Development Research Centre, 1994) pp. 40-2. (12) Note that a per capita consumption of 100 liters of water per day is generally considered to be the minimum for an acceptable quality of life. (13) The GAP project calls for the construction of 80 dams, 66 hydroelectric power stations and 68 irrigation projects covering up to two million hectares of land, at a total cost of more than $20 billion. For details, see Daniel Hillel, Rivers of Eden: The Struggle for Water and the Quest for Peace in the Middle East (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994) pp. 104-10; J.F. Kolars and W. A. Mitchell, The Euphrates River and the Southeast Anatolia Development Project (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991). (14) While the commission does meet, the Syrian representative will occasionally not attend if he knows that the Iraqi representative will be there, and vice versa. (15) John Waterbury, "Transboundary Water and the Challenge of International Cooperation in the Middle East," in Water in the Arab World: Perspectives and Progress, ed. Peter Rogers and Peter Lydon (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994) p. 58. (16) Hillel, p. 110. Hillel contends that Iraq may eventually lose as much as 80 percent of its Euphrates inflow. (17) Helen Milner, "International Theories of Cooperation among Nations: Strengths and Weaknesses," World Politics, 44, no. 3 (April 1992) p. 484; and Duncan Snidal, "International Cooperation among Relative Gains Maximizers," International Studies Quarterly, 35, (December 1991). Both authors point out that in three-person games, of which the Euphrates is an example, bilateral cooperation is more favorable than each state "going it alone." (18) The other four issues were arms control, economic development, the environment and refugees. (19) The information concerning the meetings of the water resources working group has been provided to this author by several participants at those meetings, who will remain anonymous. (20) A Jordanian spokesman claimed that the signing of the treaty would greatly increase Jordan's water supply immediately. See Frederic C. Hof, "Jordan, Israel Part the Waters," The Journal of Commerce, 3 November 1994. Annex II of the Treaty of Peace is reprinted in Appendix 5 of Lowi, Water and Power (1995) pp. 212-17. (21) See Lowi, Water and Power, pp. 105-44, 161-70. (22) James W. Moore, "Parting the Waters: Calculating Israeli and Palestinian Entitlements to the West Bank Aquifers and the Jordan River Basin," Middle East Policy, 3, no. 2 (1994) p. 93. (23) There already exists in the literature a variety of efforts to calculate fair and reasonable allocations. See, among others, Lonergan and Brooks, Watershed, Moore, "Parting the Waters"; H. Zarour and J. Isaac, "Nature's Apportionment and the Open Market: a Promising Solution to the Arab-Israeli Water Conflict," Water International, 18, no. 1 (1993) pp. 40-53. (24) See Lonergan and Brooks, pp. 180-6; Lowi, "Bridging the Divide," p. 137. (25) This is not to deny the need for states in the Middle East to revise and revamp their national economies and water consumption patterns in order to reduce egregious waste. Indeed, domestic solutions of this sort are essential for dealing with scarcity.…
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Publication information: Article title: Rivers of Conflict, Rivers of Peace. Contributors: Lowi, Miriam R. - Author. Journal title: Journal of International Affairs. Volume: 49. Issue: 1 Publication date: Summer 1995. Page number: 123+. © 1997 Columbia University School of International Public Affairs. COPYRIGHT 1995 Gale Group.
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