Environmental group proposes water management model

Friends of the Earth-Middle East, a cross-border environmental organization, suggests joint management of shared resources by Israelis and Palestinians.

By EHUD ZION WALDOKS
December 1, 2010 04:56
4 minute read.
Israeli-Palestinian management of water sources

water sources 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Friends of the Earth-Middle East – a cross-border environmental organization with representation in Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority – offered a new model for joint management of shared water resources by Israelis and Palestinians on Tuesday.

The model suggests moving to shared management of joint water resources, like the Jordan River, the mountain aquifer and streams running through the West Bank and Israel, based on a mediated approach to solving water disputes. This proposal does not address non-shared water resources such as much of the coastal aquifer or any of the desalination plants that Israel is building or has built along the Mediterranean coast.

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Currently, under the Oslo Accords, Israel allocates a fixed amount of water to the Palestinians, occasionally adding to it if needed. A Joint Water Committee run by Israel approves Palestinian water projects, such as drilling wells, on the eastern part of the mountain aquifer but only acts in reference to Palestinian needs, with no authority over Israeli projects.

Instead of a fixed-pie approach to water management where each side gets a finite “piece,” the model suggests a more fluid and dynamic approach that takes into account the changing nature of the water supply.

Factors such as less rain and climate change would reduce supply, while rising standards of living on both sides of the future border would mean an increase in demand.

The thrust of the proposal is the notion of shared management with a conflict resolution mechanism to resolve disputes through mediation.

The goal of the model is to take water out of the realm of a “national security” issue in order to help the sides make progress on negotiating this sensitive final-status issue.



The authors have based their model on the three general principles that say, “Management must be economically efficient, socially and politically equitable, and ecologically sustainable.”

The model has gone through several permutations before reaching its current form. It was originally drafted with the intention of being included in the Geneva Initiative by Drs. David B.Brooks and Julie Trottier in 2007-8.

Brooks is a natural resource economist, recently retired from Canada’s International Development Research Centre.

He was the founding director of the Canadian Office of Energy Conservation and is now senior adviser on fresh water for Friends of the Earth Canada.

Trottier is a research professor at France’s National Center for Scientific Research.

With formal studies in chemistry, politics and Islamic studies, she has focused her research for the last 15 years on the politics of water in Israel and Palestine.

However, the Geneva Initiative decided not to adopt their proposal and instead used a model drafted by Prof. Hillel Shuval – one of Brooks and Trottier’s Israeli advisers.

Nevertheless, Friends of the Earth decided to find funding to complete and present the model and the EU stepped in to fill in the gap.

The Brooks/Trottier model calls for the creation of three governing bodies: A bilateral water commission, a water mediation board and a local water management board. A subcommittee of scientific advisers would provide guidance.

The bilateral commission would set policy, the mediation board would resolve disputes and the local board would enable the players on the ground to have a say.

The bilateral board would be comprised of three representatives from each country plus a seventh member from any other country in the world chosen by the other six.

To avoid a situation in which one side plus the adviser could gang up on the other side, decisions would have to be accepted by at least two members of that party as well.

The model is far from ready for implementation, the authors admitted. To be completely functional, many details still remain to be worked out. The model could only be carried out once borders were established, as water resources had to be classified as shared or not shared, depending on location.

However, Brooks and Trottier argued that the model was one way to bring about agreements on the issue of water sooner, rather than later.

But the proposal also provided two academic critiques to the model in an appendix.

Prof. Nadav G. Shelef, an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science and the Harvey M. Meyerhoff Assistant Professor of Modern Israel Studies at the University of Wisconsin– Madison, critiqued the notion that Israelis and Palestinians would willingly adopt a joint management model based on mediation.

He argued that given the violent history of the conflict, even if peace was achieved it would not necessarily be based on mutual trust.

Therefore, a model which required both sides to trust each other and would force Israel to compromise on its total control over water resources was unlikely to be approved. Shelef argued that water was likely to remain a national security matter even after a peace accord had been reached.

Shuval, director of the Department of Environmental Sciences, Hadassah Academic College, and Lunenfeld- Kunen Emeritus Professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, argued that neither the Israelis or the Palestinians would willingly give up any of their sovereignty over such a vital matter as water resources, and particularly not to an untried and unknown entity like the bilateral water commission.

He also argued that moving to joint management all at once right at the beginning would not work. Rather, a gradual process had a better chance of success.

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