Water in the Middle East 2009

Exploring Water Patterns in the Middle East project organized during the 13th annual Forum 2000 Conference in 2009 one panel discussion

Peace Process and the Importance of Water Issue

The discussion focused on the current problems of access to water resources in the Jordan River basin, the possible character of a viable Israeli-Palestinian water agreement and its impact on the Peace Process.

Hillel Shuval, water expert of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, introduced the debate by emphasizing that Palestinians today have access to the least amount of water in the Jordan River basin and, as there is a likelihood of future draughts and severe water shortages, the situation has to be acted upon. He recalled the Geneva Initiative (2003) whose goal it is “to provide a model of how the Palestinians and Israelis of good will can achieve an understanding on a peace agreement, including details, which is vital for both nations”. Relating to the issue of water, its main tenets are mutual recognition of water rights, increasing Palestinian water resources, and creating a fair and equitable re-division of shared water, all based on the two states living side by side in peace and mutual respect. Accordingly, he adds that “a water agreement without two states is no agreement”.

Hillel Shuval mentioned the Israeli claim of historical water rights and the fears of the Israeli government that unrestricted water pumping in the Palestinian territories will create a serious water shortage for the entire region. However, according to Shuval, it is in Israel’s own interest that Palestine "will have enough water to thrive economically. With optimism he concluded that an equitable agreement on the water issues can be a motivation for peace.
In response to Shuval's presentation, Palestinian water expert Abdulrahman Tamimi also emphasized the need of a two-state solution and noted that there will be future water shortages regardless of the political situation. He also expressed his belief that rights to water and sanitation should be guaranteed as human rights. Cooperation between two equal partners will be necessary in order to find a solution. Citing examples of shared water resources in Asia, Europe, Africa, and North America, Tamimi argued that nations need not be friendly to respectfully share their water resources. He added that self-determination for the Palestinian people should mean control over their own water resources.

In his presentation, Tamimi aslo touched upon the topic of water privatization, warning that while this may increase efficiency, it could potentially lead to high prices and monopolies which could undermine the status of water as a human right.

Both speakers recognized that a respectful relationship between the two states is essential otherwise according to Tamini, any water agreement would be a mere “academic exercise”. Recognizing that agriculture is water intensive, he pointed to the cultural history of the Palestinians of up keeping family farms. However both Tamimi and Shuval agreed that any international agreement must be flexible and responsive to environmental changes.

A water agreement, in their minds, is a crucial tool for a future, lasting peace.

Previous years

Water in the Middle East 2010
October 10, 2010 - October 12, 2010
Water in the Middle East 2008
September 10, 2008 - September 11, 2008
Water in the Middle East 2007
October 8, 2007 - October 9, 2007
Water in the Middle East 2006
October 9, 2006 - October 10, 2006
Water in the Middle East 2005
September 10, 2005 - September 11, 2005