Water in the Middle East: A Geography of Peace

By Naff, Thomas | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 2000 | Go to article overview

Water in the Middle East: A Geography of Peace


Naff, Thomas, The Middle East Journal


Water in the Middle East: A Geography of Peace, by Hussein A. Amery and Aaron Wolf. Austin, TX. The University of Texas Press, 2000. xviii + 293 pages. Figures to p. 238. Tables to p. 256. Appends. to p. 272. Gloss. to p. 278. Index to p. 293. $45 cloth; $29.95 paper.

This volume is, largely, a useful collection of various geopolitical treatments of the critical role water plays in the Arab-Israeli peace-seeking process. While the compilation has defects, none of them is fatal; the book still commands attention.

The editors declare their intention to provide a geographical point of view on the Jordan basin and the peace negotiations using "forward-looking analyses" as a technique that offers conditional glimpses of the future-that is, interpretations from diverse geographical perspectives of the hydrological, historical, managerial, and political issues of water in the Jordan system. The idea is a worthy one as there has been a need for such a treatment of the subject. Unfortunately, this endeavor does not fulfill the want either in its regional or topical scope-in these respects the title is misleading given the exclusive focus on the Jordan basin-or conceptually; serious theoretical considerations are eschewed. In only a few chapters are the concerns of geographers as posed in the introduction (e.g., the relationship between people and their natural resources, the difficulties of generalizing about watershed management in the face of the unique human and physical characteristics of each river) clearly applied and analyzed. Forward analysis is used inconsistently and with little incisiveness.

In part because of its extreme importance in human affairs, and in part because in international settings water is always an issue of terrain security and national sovereignty, water is inherently political. Unsurprisingly, when studies of water and geography are combined, the concept "geopolitical" very often comes into play, wherein the "geo" component almost always particularizes the meaning of "political," as in this work. In light of its actual treatment of the Jordan basin's water problems, a more apt title for the book might have been something like "A Political Geography of Water and Peace in the Jordan Basin"-more prosaic, but more reflective of what has actually been produced.

The warp and woof of the book's ten chapters are the issues of water security and conflict, linked to scarcity and territorial claims, with underlying political and geographical motifs. One may delineate the political theme by the general proposition that unless Israel and the Arab states (including the envisioned State of Palestine) which inhabit the Jordan watershed conclude a fair, equitable, and cooperative agreement for sharing the increasingly scarce water supplies, one that requires rational uses of the resource, any peace agreement is likely to be undermined by constant water-driven tensions that could destabilize an accord over the long term. …

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