Technology has transformed water from one of the most divisive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a vehicle that can now be used to promote regional unity, according to the non-governmental group EcoPeace Middle East.
The Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian group has embarked on an international campaign to disassociate water from the conflict – even though it is listed under the 1993 Oslo Accord as a core negotiating issue.
“Water cannot remain hostage to the failure to agree on other issues,” Israeli co-director of the organization Gideon Bromberg told the United Nations Security Council on Monday. “Let us set water free to give life and hope to our region.”
“Climate security and water security can not wait. The failure to move forward on these issues is not only to the detriment of Israelis and Palestinians, but to the rest of the world as well,” Bromberg told reporters in New York.
“We are all in the same boat, Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians.” Bromberg said.
In an unusual move, he appeared at the UNSC together with his Palestinian co-director Nada Majdalani and Jordanian co-director Yana Abu Taleb.
Both he and Majdalani told the council that Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians were already working on joint water and energy projects and asked the member states to support their efforts.
Security Council president, German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, told reporters that he had wanted to highlight a joint initiative that was both positive and effective.
“We will continue to work on this,” he said, adding that Indonesia, which takes over the UNSC presidency in May, was also committed to this issue.
Bromberg told the council that 20th century dependency on natural water had created a conflict and competition “over every drop.”
“This was the mind set that led to the demise of the Jordan River, and the drastic reduction in size of the Dead Sea,” he said. “This was the mind set of how water was negotiated in the Olso Accords in the mid 1990s,” he added.
“Water was left unresolved as a final status issue, because coming to an agreement over sharing scarce natural water was difficult and would produce winners and losers,” Bromberg said.
New technology, which allows for water to be manufactured, can transform water into a unifying element in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Good water and not necessarily good fences make good neighbors,” Bromberg said.
Today, 70% of Israeli drinking water in Israel comes from desalinization and half of Israeli agriculture is grown with treated waste water, he said.
Separately, neighboring Jordan, with its vast deserts that can be used as solar fields, has become a regional leader in solar power, Bromberg added.
“The combination of manufactured water coming from the Israeli and Palestinian coast, and sold east to Jordan, powered by solar electricity produced in Jordan and sold west to Israel and Palestine, is a potential geo-political game changer that can guarantee water and energy security for all,” Bromberg said.
“Harnessing the sea and the sun – shared by Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians – can be our engine for peace and stability,” Bromberg said.
Majdalani said that resolving the issues of water and waste treatment was particularly critical for the Gaza Strip, where people were already dying from environmental pollution.
She told the story of a five-year-old boy who contracted a brain virus that killed him after he swam in sewage-polluted water.
“As we speak today, 97% of the groundwater under Gaza is not suitable for human consumption,” Majdalani said. “Thirty percent of illnesses in Gaza are from water-borne pathogens. With a four-hour average of power supply, waste water facilities fail to operate, emptying the equivalent of 34 Olympic-size swimming pools of raw sewage daily into the Mediterranean,” she said.
“A humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip is happening right now, right before our eyes,” she told the Security Council.
If no immediate action is taken in Gaza, people will flee by heading out in boats, just like other Middle Eastern refugees, Majdalani said.
“The international community should be ready for more boats of refugees,” she said.
Most of the world fears a two degree increase in temperature, but in the Middle East the fear is that it could rise by 4%, Majdalani said.
“Action is needed today,” she said, adding that, “cross-border cooperation is needed as a matter of national and regional stability and security.”
Abu Taleb added that, “our aim is to build peace that exists on people.”
Meanwhile, the Society for the Preservation of Nature in Israel reported that well-known Israeli environmentalist Yossi Leshem is set to meet on May 11 with Pope Francis to discuss how joint regional environmental initiatives can be a bridge to peace.
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