Water could play a role in Middle East peace process

With the Oslo peace process frozen, there is one issue on which the Israelis and the Palestinians still remain active - cooperation on water issues.

May 12th, 2003

May 12, 2003 -- With the Oslo peace process frozen, there is one issue on which the Israelis and the Palestinians still remain active - cooperation on water issues. Nowhere is the impact of water scarcity felt more than in the Middle East where millions of people vie continuously for a share in ever-diminishing supplies.

Throughout the Middle East, the demand and the actual consumption of water is far beyond the annual rate of replenishment, exceeding the safe yield of the regional water resources.

Dr. Eilon Adar of Israel's Ben-Gurion University of The Negev, and Director of the Institute for Water Sciences & Technologies believes that "water might serve as a catalyst for the establishment of peace in the Middle East." As director of the IWST, which encompasses a large group of water engineers, hydrologists, hydro-chemists & hydro-biologists, he claims that the dispute over scarce water in the Middle East is not necessarily a trigger for a conflict, but might rather serve as a catalyst for cooperation.

Dr. Adar took an active role in the peace negotiations with Jordan which dealt with sharing of groundwater resources, and is world renowned as a leading expert on Israel's groundwater exploitation systems.

"All major water resources including river basins and groundwater reservoirs in the Middle East are shared by at least two countries: Israel and Jordan (Arava aquifers), Syria, Israel and Lebanon (Jordan River resources), Israel and Palestine (the Judean and the coastal aquifer), Jordan and Syria (the Azrak basin), Israel and Egypt (the Nubian sandstone aquifer), and Jordan and Saudi Arabia (the Disi aquifer). Such is the significance of water in the Middle East that its allocation is prominent in all existing peace treaties with Jordan, and will play a major role in all future negotiations," said Adar, who took an active role in the peace negotiations with Jordan dealing with sharing of groundwater resources, and is world renowned as a leading expert on Israel's groundwater exploitation systems.

A large portion of the peace agreement between Israel & Jordan, which was signed in 1994, was devoted to water issues.

Politicians argue that there remain two major unresolved issues between Israel and its neighbors, namely, land and water. Experts also agree that the political stability of the region lays on agreeing, as the original Oslo accords did that they will "keep water out of the cycle of conflict in the Middle East", and "not harm in any way the regular maintenance operations related to the water and waste water infrastructure."

"It is amazing that the sole area of cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians is on water issues, for it's the pipeline of life. The lake of Galilee, located in Israel also serves as an operational storage reservoir for Jordan from which water is pumped to Amman; Israel exploits water from wells located in the Jordanian Arava Valley, and the water for the Israelis in Jerusalem is the same water, which the Arabs drink in Ramalla. Extremists haven't been able to damage the water distribution systems or even to poison water, simply because they know they would be killing their own people at the same time... Water can be the major unifying force for peace," said Adar.

"In the Year 2030, there will be approx. 20 Million people living West of the Jordan River, both Israelis and Palestinians, who will require about 4 billion cubic meters of water per year. Rainfall and other natural sources will only account for 2 billion cubic meters of water per year, and we are codependent on water, so we need to cooperate on water saving, treatment and desalination," said Adar.

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