Cover Image
close this bookHydropolitics along the Jordan River. Scarce Water and Its Impact on the Arab-Israeli Conflict (UNU, 1995, 272 pages)
View the documentAcknowledgements
View the document1. Introduction
Open this folder and view contents2. Hydrography and history
Open this folder and view contents3. Towards an interdisciplinary approach to water basin analysis and the resolution of international water disputes
Open this folder and view contents4. Interdisciplinary analysis and the Jordan River watershed
View the document5. Summary and conclusions
View the documentAfterword: Parting the waters
Open this folder and view contentsAppendices
Open this folder and view contentsSources

5. Summary and conclusions

Water is an eloquent advocate for reason.— Admiral Lewis Strauss

Where history has conspired to bring together two peoples sworn to seemingly perpetual hatred, nature has deprived the inhabitants of the most vital of all resources - water.

Nations have further conspired to make difficult the achievement of any cooperative solutions to the water shortage. But populations and economies in the region are growing to the point that people can no longer afford the proclivities toward conflict. Ironically, water may just be crucial enough an issue to force ancient enmities aside.

The Jordan River watershed, with all its competing national and economic pressures, provides a clear example of the strategic importance of water as a scarce resource. In this study, I have examined the relationship between the hydrology of a contentious international watershed and the people who are dependent on it, not just for their livelihoods but for their lives.

My goal was twofold: to contribute to the field of water resources management by developing an interdisciplinary framework for water conflict analysis and, by applying such a framework to a worst-case scenario of hydropolitical relations, to help offer solutions to the water conflict of the Jordan River watershed. My approach took a rather circuitous route, each step building on the other. In chapter 2, following the belief that good planning for the future is founded on a thorough understanding of the past, I examined the historic relation ship between the riparians of the Jordan River watershed. My findings were summarized as follows:

1915-1926. As the Ottoman Empire crumbled, the location of water resources, particularly the headwaters of the Jordan River, helped influence the boundaries of the French and British Mandates, later the borders between Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan (see appendix I, map 2).

1930s and 1940s. As populations and economies grew against hydrologic limits, so, too, grew the dangers of conflict over water. In the 1930s and 1940s, water was a focus of several reports that tried to determine the economic absorptive capacity of the land. These reports influenced British, Arab, and Jewish attitudes and policies towards immigration and land settlement.

1948-1953. Unilateral development, occasionally infringing on demilitarized zones, led to brief armed conflict between Syrians and Israelis.

1953-1955. Johnston negotiations. Eric Johnston, special envoy to US President Eisenhower, worked for two years to hammer out a water-sharing agreement between the riparians of the Jordan River. Although unratified for political reasons, the allocations agreed to by Arab and Israeli technical committees have generally held, with recognized modifications. Moreover, both Israel and Jordan agreed to send technical representatives to regular "Picnic Table talks" to determine day-to-day hydrologic operations. These talks, named for the site at the confluence of the Yarmuk and Jordan rivers where the meetings reportedly take place, have proved fruitful over the years in reducing minor tensions.

1964-1967. "Water Wars." Beginning with the Arab decision to build an AllArab diversion of the Jordan headwaters to preclude the Israeli National Water Carrier, and ending three years later when Israeli tank and air strikes halted construction on the diversion, this was a period of the most direct water-related conflict.

May 1967. Even as tensions were leading to the following week's outbreak of the Six-Day War, the US Departments of Interior and State convened an "International Conference on Water for Peace" in Washington, D.C., which attracted 6,400 participants from 94 countries, including Israel, Egypt (then the WAR), Jordan, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia.

June 1967. The Six-Day War changed regional riparian positioning. Israel acquired two of the three Jordan River headwaters, riparian access to the entire river, and the recharge zone for mountain aquifers that currently supplies about 40 per cent of Israel's freshwater supply. Israel also destroyed the "All-Arab" diversion scheme of the Jordan headwaters, which would have reduced Israeli water by 35 per cent.

6 May 1977. Only ministerial-level meeting between Jordanians and Israelis to discuss joint watershed planning.

June 1982. The Israeli war in Lebanon reportedly had a minor hydrologic component.

1980s. Philip Habib helped to renegotiate Johnston allocations based on political and demographic changes, and tried to reach arrangement over "Unity Dam."

1967-Present. Ownership and management conflicts between Israel/West Bank, Israel/Gaza, Israel/Jordan, and Jordan/Syria.

1989-1990. Richard Armitage led US State Department indirect mediations to reach arrangement over "Unity Dam."

1991-Present. Impetus towards cooperation grows as regional peace talks develop.

I emphasized that none of the events described above happened in a political vacuum; that I had pulled only those events relating water resources to strategic decision-making out of the geopolitical maelstrom that makes up history. In a section on "hydroconspiracy" theories, I examined two theories, the "hydraulic imperative" and "hydronationalism," which overemphasize water as a political force, and I found both lacking in hydrologic, and therefore in political, legitimacy.

The contention that I made regarding history was only as follows:

  1. that water, as a strategic resource, has played a larger role in regional conflict than is generally known;
  2. that water issues have precipitated some conflict and added to existing tensions in the region; and
  3. that, occasionally, water issues have led to dialogue and attempts at cooperation.

Before proceeding to examine possible solutions to the Middle East water conflict, I offered some lessons that are informed by the history of the region and that could be useful in helping to formulate options for solutions to waterinduced tensions, as follows:

  1. Observation: The link between water resources and political alternatives is inextricable, with water scarcity leading directly both to heightened political tensions and to opportunities for cooperation.
    Implication: For negotiations for a political settlement to be successful, they will also have to address solutions to the water conflict. Similarly, workable solutions to the problems of regional water shortage should also address the constraints posed by regional politics.
  2. Observation: Water has historically been a factor in Middle East population distribution, including some border considerations.
    Implication: Successful negotiations over Jewish immigration or Palestinian "right of return" will have to incorporate the hydrologic limitations of the region.
  3. Observation: No dispute between Arabs and Israelis, on water or on any other issue, has ever been resolved without third-party (usually United States) sponsorship and active participation. and
  4. Observation: The better a state's "hydrostrategic" position, the less interest it has in reaching a water-sharing agreement.
    Implication: Strong third-party involvement will be necessary for successful negotiations. The United States, or other sponsor of negotiations, should be prepared with a comprehensive strategy to induce cooperation, with particular emphasis on the upstream riparians.
  5. Observation: Projects of limited and implicit cooperation have been successful even in advance of political solutions between the parties involved (e.g. Picnic Table talks, water-for-peace process). Nevertheless, explicit cooperation (e.g. Maqarin Dam), has not preceded political relations. and
  6. Observation: The more complex a proposal is technically, the more complex it is politically.
    Implication: In the context of regional talks, progress in negotiations over water resources may encourage dialogue on other, more contentious, issues. While water continues to "lead" the peace talks, projects to induce cooperation can be designed in a stepwise fashion beginning with "small and doable," and leading to ever-increasing integration, always remaining on the cutting edge of political relations.
  7. Observation: The two conditions at the core of political viability of watersharing are equity of the agreement or project (that is' how much each participant gets), and control by each party of its own primary water sources (or, where it comes from, and whose hand is on the tap).
    Implication: These two contentious issues will have to be addressed fairly early in negotiations. Unless a water-sharing agreement is worked out, with each party having its historic as well as future needs addressed, any negotiations over intricate cooperative projects will be building on accumulated ill will.

If one accepts that conflict can come about in part because of scarce water resources, and understands that as populations and economies continue to grow against hydrologic limits, so do the dangers, the logical question is, "What is to be done?" In chapter 3, I surveyed the literature of several disciplines to develop an interdisciplinary model for evaluating water-basin development and international water conflicts. I examined the disciplines of physical sciences, law, political science, economics, game theory, and alternative dispute resolution (ADR). I demonstrated, in the process, that each paradigm offers several useful tools and guidelines for water basin analysis, as outlined below, but that no single paradigm can provide all the answers necessary for a thorough study.

The physical sciences and technology offer several practical options, both for increasing water supply through such measures as desalination and waste-water reclamation, and for decreasing demand, through more efficient agricultural practices. Other technical options offered included other political entities (through shared information and technology) and other water basins (through water transfers).

A discussion of law revealed that, although assignment of water rights is requisite both for addressing past and present grievances, and for the establishment of water markets, the current state of international water law is not sufficiently developed to handle the task. Treaties, which can be negotiated using the principles of ADR and incorporating the guidelines of "dispute systems design" to encourage ongoing conflict resolution, are both site and conflict specific. Emphasis, therefore, might be placed on water-sharing and basin-development treaties, incorporating the contentious issues raised historically of "equity" (who gets how much) and "control" (from where, and whose hand is on the tap).

Political science suggests strategies for reducing water use within each country, informed by the relative salience and power of each of the groups of water users. A discussion of international relations suggested that there was some ambiguity over whether increased international integration of water planning and projects leads to increased stabilization, or, conversely, to increased points of contention. This discussion, combined with the lessons offered in the section on history and in the field of dispute systems design, may reinforce the contention that both joint planning and joint water projects may be designed in a progression of cooperation toward the goal of ever-increasing integration, but starting with "small and doable" projects safeguarding the need for each political entity to have direct control over its own primary water source.

Economics offers the useful tools of the benefit-cost analysis, to help provide a method of comparative measurement of water projects, and the water market, which could help increase efficiency both within each entity and internationally. Prerequisites for the latter include allowing the price of water to reflect its true costs, and the clear assignment of water rights, both of which present difficulties under the current conditions. I have offered some policy guidelines as well, including that of allowing the price of water to reflect the costs associated with its development, treatment, storage, and delivery, as mentioned above, which might lead to greater efficiency of water use and greater incentive for water-saving research and even for international cooperation.

A brief discussion of game theory suggested that the field offers options both in terms of predicting the strategies that might be chosen by entities in competition over water, and for analysing the distribution of pay-offs for potential cooperative projects, for a variety of possible coalitions.

Finally, alternative dispute resolution offers guidelines for the process of resolving conflicts, from prenegotiation, to the process itself, to guidelines for implementation. Suggestions were made for when a party should, or should not, be at the negotiating table to begin with, and what can be expected, given each party's "bargaining mix." The recently developed subfield of ADR, "dispute systems design," offers methods to incorporate the dynamics of conflict resolution into the institutions that deal with conflicts. Some of these methods might be applicable to physical systems of cooperation as well.

Once I had surveyed the literature of each discipline, I formulated an interdisciplinary evaluation framework, listing the technical and policy options available to a watershed to increase supply or to decrease demand. Each option is evaluated for its technical, economic, and political viability, to allow a hierarchy of relative viability to be formulated. Such a framework, I argued, can be incorporated into the guidelines for an integrated process for water conflict analysis, which, I suggested, might proceed as follows (with rationale from ADR in parentheses):

  1. Preliminary watershed analysis. (Identify Actors' Initial Hydropolitical Position)
  • Survey positions, salience, power (political science, ADR)
    (Insist on Common Criteria for Analysis)
  • Establish overall goals
  • Choose an appropriate planning horizon
  • Determine future water supply and demand
  1. A framework for evaluation: options and viability. (Invent Options for Mutual Gain)
  • Determine technical and policy options (physical science, economics, political science)
  • Measure technical, economic, political viability (physical science, economics, political science)
  1. Implementation. (Determine Feedback Mechanism for Perpetuating Agreement)
  • "Dis-integrate" resource control to address past and present grievances (history, law, political science)
  • Examine details of initial positions for options to induce cooperation (ADR)
  • Design plan or project, starting with small-scale implicit cooperation, and building towards ever-increasing integration, always "leading" political relations (political science, ADR - dispute systems design).

To match the technical, economic, and political dynamics of the system, I suggested that the process of analysis be both interactive and iterative.

In chapter 4, I used the model developed in chapter 3, and incorporated the guidelines from history outlined above, to suggest a process of ever-increasing cooperation for development of the Jordan River watershed. The preliminary watershed analysis calculated water supply and demand for a 30-year planning horizion. The framework for option evaluation suggested a fourstage process for regional development:

  1. Negotiate an equitable division of existing resources.
  2. Emphasize greater efficiency for water supply and demand.
  3. Alleviate short-term needs through interbasin water transfers, if available and politically viable.
  4. Develop a regional desalination project in cooperation-inducing stages.

The final section on implementation offered three approaches to cooperation-inducing project design for the basin. The first suggested methods for establishing both equity and control in a division of water rights to the major riparians of the basin - Israel, Jordan, the West Bank, and Gaza. The second focused on the difficult issue of the mountain aquifer on the West Bank, and ways that its quantity and quality could be utilized jointly by Israel and West Bank Palestinians. The last example offered cooperation-inducing design in a physical project for regional desalination.

This study has emphasized the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to water conflict analysis. In examining the conflict in the Jordan River watershed, any one discipline alone could miss opportunities to evaluate the options or to provide the necessary guidelines to reduce conflict. By interacting in an integrated framework, however, the disciplines build on each other to provide new opportunities to circumvent entrenched positions, and to allow options to induce cooperation.

By broadening the tools available to the water resources manager, this approach has also broadened the applications of some of the individual disciplines available to the resource manager. "Dispute systems design," for example, which previously has been applied only to institutions and organizations, has been expanded to what I term "cooperation-inducing design," a process to incorporate the lessons of ADR into physical systems of development plans or projects. The examples used involved water resources development projects, but the principles of "dis-integrating" control, examining the bargaining mix for clues to system design, and designing for ever-increasing cooperation and integration, might be applicable to any number of resource conflicts as well.

Finally, the issues are not of disciplines and theory, but of people and water. I have shown that, just as nations have shaped the flow of water, so, too, did water shape the face of history. As Middle East peace negotiations attempt to lift the riparians of the Jordan River watershed incrementally out of a perpetual cycle of violence, water can continue to "lead" the process towards ever-increasing cooperation.

The present hydropolitical situation in the Middle East is one of intricate problems and delicate solutions. The distribution of scarce water resources in the Jordan River watershed is particularly precarious. The dangers of conflict and the opportunities for cooperation are both growing as annual supplies are currently being reached and surpassed. As Gideon Fishelson (1989) of the Armand Hammer Fund for Economic Cooperation in the Middle East writes:

The danger of war over water hangs over the heads of the Middle East countries, yet there is also the possibility of cooperation and harnessing new technologies and capital that would prevent such wars. Solving the water issue is one of the essential prerequisites to achieving a meaningful and lasting peace in the Middle East.