Israeli, Palestinian experts meet over water agreements

Calling Oslo Accords ‘outdated,’ green group hopes to bring new solution to regional resource sharing.

water from the rock_58 (photo credit: Israel Weiss,
water from the rock_58
(photo credit: Israel Weiss,
For both Gidon Bromberg and Nader Khateeb, having a clean and ample supply of water far outweighs the stringencies posed by political borders.
Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian representatives took part Sunday in the first day of a two-day Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) workshop in Beit Jala, to revise and make plans for the implementation of a “Model Water Accord” proposed by the green group, a statement from the team said.
The Model Water Accord, drafted in November 2010, provides a potential structure for the Israeli and Palestinian water-sharing future and attempts to update a current system that is “outdated, inadequate, unfair and failing both peoples,” the organization said.
The accord is a part of the European Union-sponsored “Trans-boundary Advocacy for Parliamentarians” cross-border project that urges a more sustainable management of shared water resources in the area, according to the group.
“Developing mechanisms for an emerging Palestinian state is crucial at this time, and this Model Water Accord exemplifies how a more equitable allocation of the region’s shared water resources is beneficial to both Israelis and Palestinians, and that it is attainable,” said Khateeb, FoEME Palestinian director, in a statement prior to the workshop.
His Israeli counterpart, Bromberg, agreed, adding in the same statement: “Water should not be held hostage to the conflict, especially when a viable alternative option is placed on the table.”
During the first day of the workshop, local community representatives, Israeli and Palestinian academics and FoEME members examined some of the most problematic places on both sides of the border – with a particular focus from the Israeli side on Bakha Al Garbia and Emek Hefer – the second of which receives an overflow of sewage from the West Bank, Bromberg told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday evening.
Meanwhile, two places of interest from the Palestinian side were Yatta in the Hebron Hills, which shares a spring with Beersheba, and the Al Auja Spring, where water-management issues lead to undesirable socioeconomic effects, according to FoEME.
“Current water arrangements are failing both peoples,” Bromberg told the Post, noting that insufficient water supply is harming the Palestinians, while inadequate sewage treatment is harming both.
The November draft of the Model Water Accord stipulates the creation of a Bilateral Water Commission that would be responsible for all shared water – not simply for shared water from the Palestinian side, as is the Join Water Committee’s responsibility today – as well as a Water Mediation Board, according to an executive summary.
The commission would be responsible for making decisions on water extractions and deliveries based on a subsidiary body of scientific advisers from both sides, while the board would step in if any opposition or conflict occurred as a result of the decision.
One of the most critical elements of the accord is that the commission would handle shared water spaces from both sides, Bromberg explained.
“The current arrangement looks at mountain aquifer, but only the Palestinian side on the West Bank and how it is managed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” Bromberg said.
“Our water accord would look at the mountain aquifer in its completeness – both on the West Bank side and the Israeli side.”
Khateeb added, also on Sunday evening, “They were only looking at the West Bank and Israel was free to do whatever it wanted – we are looking beyond the political borders.”
Workshop participants have already provided several words of advice for improving the accord in its final version, the first of which being the necessity “to secure for both sides a minimum certainty of water supply,” according to Bromberg.
While FoEME’s policy opposes any further expansion of desalination plants in Israel, Bromberg said that the current facilities could serve to provide such certainty, an idea suggested to the group by the academics in the room.
A second suggestion entailed involving “the highest level of decision-making” – namely, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas – directly in future water-sharing plans in case a stalemate on any specific agreement is reached, Bromberg explained.
“If there is a deadlock in the Bilateral Water Commission there should be an avenue of taking it to the highest level, and the rationale for that was that the Bilateral Water Commission is still water experts and there will be occasions where you will have to look beyond the water question,” he added.

The third proposed revision to the accord made on Sunday was a request for the presence of a third, neutral party on both the commission and the board – someone from a country approved by both the Israeli and Palestinian representatives, Bromberg said.
In the face of what they feel are obsolete Oslo Accord measures on water, both Bromberg and Khateeb said that they expected government reception on both sides to be positive once they submit the final version to the respective leaders.
Monday’s session will be more strategic, with more direct implementation plans, according to Bromberg.
“I am delighted with how things went today,” Khateeb said. “[The workshop] highlights a new approach that we think is more sustainable, takes into account future changes and is not based on a zero-sum game.”