Water has been one of the mos! t difficult components of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It is also one of the major problems facing development in the region. One illustration of the regional water problem is that the parties are not adhering to the international law stipulations regarding water.
An example of this is the Jordan River basin, where Israel has been taking a disproportional amount of the Jordan River in order to compensate for the natural scarcity of water in Israel. This has been done in an illegal way: international water laws specify the amount of water that all riparian parties are allowed to use and stipulate that this should be done in agreement with all parties.
Israel’s use of this water is one of many causes that have led to the decline of the amount of water in the Dead Sea, which is unique both because it is the lowest point on earth and because it is the most salty sea on earth. Other reasons for the Dead Sea’s decline include Israel’s illegal use of it to extract natural resources, especially different types of salts, and vibration, which is a natural cause. All of these factors, and perhaps others, have brought the amount of water in the Dead Sea to half of what it was less than 100 years ago. If things continue like this, experts are predicting that the Dead Sea might become a thing of the past.
One of the ideas for dealing with this problem, which might also have other benefits, is to bring water to the Dead Sea from either the Mediterranean Sea or the Red Sea. It seems that the surrounding countries, basically Israel, Jordan, and Palestine, have found it more convenient to examine the feasibility of a Red-Dead water conveyance. Such a conveyance would not only bring water to compensate for the loss but also serve as a source of power. As the Red Sea is 400 meters higher than the Dead Sea, the conveyance of water from the high level to the low can be used to generate electricity. Another potential use of the project is water desalination, as well as possibly agriculture and tourism.
Such a project has, at the same time, potential problems. Some scientists and ecologists are encouraging decision makers to be cautious because of possible environmental problems. Economists are also suggesting that this project might be too expensive, that the parties might not be able to afford it, and that international donors might be hesitant to provide the large amount of money that such a project requires. For all of these reasons, the parties recently agreed to launch an economic, environmental, technical, and social feasibility study that should provide the information necessary to address all of these fears and concerns. Only after this study will we be able to see if such a project is economically feasible and environmentally safe.
Palestinians have another source of interest in this project. The negotiations that were encouraged and facilitated by the World Bank presented difficult challenges for the Palestinians. During two years of negotiations, Israel argued that because Palestine is not a state, it cannot enjoy riparian rights and consequently cannot even be a party to the agreement on the feasibility study. Palestinians insisted on their rights, however, and were supported by the relevant stipulations of international law. As the World Bank is an important player in such an expensive project, and because the World Bank is a UN international agency that is bound to international law, Israel faced difficulties in getting the Bank and Jordan on board while excluding the Palestinians.
This enabled the three parties to reach an agreement by which Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority are partners on equal footing, with an implicit recognition of the riparian rights of the three of them. That is significant politically and legally for the Palestinians, who are still negotiating and struggling to achieve recognition of the borders of their state. The eastern border is supposed to be the River Jordan and the Dead Sea.
The agreement to launch a feasibility study is significant because it is an example of how the parties can reach an agreement when they resort to civilized negotiations and adhere to the relevant stipulations of international law. If it succeeds, such a regional development project can be an example of regional cooperation of the kind that creates common economic interests, which is useful for the peace process or future peaceful relations in the region.