On February 15, 1999, away from the eyes of the press and amidst stalled political negotiations between the government of Israel and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), a new form of cooperation in Israeli-Palestinian relations took shape. On that day, at City Hall in Haifa, the Palestinian governor of Jenin and the chief executives of the Israeli Municipality of Haifa and the regional councils of Gilboa and Beit She'an, had come together to sign an agreement which laid out the commitment and guidelines for the establishment of cross-border cooperation in northern Israel and the PNA, as a means of encouraging peace and conciliation to the region.(1)
Entitled "Cooperation North," the formation of this new and, to date, only such Israeli-Palestinian alliance - touching upon the lives of approximately half-a-million people - marked the beginning of a new framework for developing cross-border cooperation in a shared geographical region. By so doing, it also launched the possibility of developing a new framework for regional cooperation.
This paper aims to examine what Cooperation North has achieved on both a conceptual and practical level, presenting a broad model for other cross-border areas to duplicate, adapt, or modify. In the least, it may provide a basis for discussion on how to move from the experience of conflict and confrontation to that of sustainable peace.

Motives of Cross-Border Cooperation

The concept of cross-border cooperation is that two border areas work together in setting priorities and developing programs, rather than acting separately and seeking cooperation afterward. Its chief aim is to remove both physical and psychological barriers and restrictions that contribute to the separation of communities and nations, as well as to overcome disparities and historical barriers and redress their imbalances. It involves direct cooperation and joint decision-making between neighbors in all areas of life and covers vast issues, ranging from everyday problems of a local nature to developing joint strategies for regional development.
Although cross-border cooperation may be new to our region, it has a long tradition both in Europe and other areas around the world, including Asia, the United States, and Mexico. In Europe, since the 1950s, there has been a concerted effort to establish organized cross-border cooperation in border regions, mainly on the Scandinavian, Dutch/German, and French/German/Swiss borders. In some countries, such as Spain, Portugal and Greece, cross-border cooperation became feasible only in the 1980s, as a result of political changes. In the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, a similar process is developing; yet it has been progressing at a slow pace, since the levels of distrust remain high and, in some areas, conflicts between the parties have yet to be resolved. In 1994, a European Commission initiative with a cross-border character was also introduced in Northern Ireland and the border counties of Ireland.(2)
In 1997, through the initiative of the Tel Aviv-based Economic Cooperation Foundation, the groundwork for an Israeli-Palestinian concept of cross-border cooperation was laid down. This concept was rooted in the understanding that in light of the onset of the Oslo process, with the signing of the Israel-PLO Declaration of Principles in September 1993, Israel and the future State of Palestine are in a position where they face these choices: either to turn their borders into barriers that encourage hostility, separation, and disparity, or into a venue and focal point for cross-border cooperation.(3)

Motives of 'Cooperation North'

The opportunity to develop cross-border cooperation between Israel and the PNA presented itself on the northern axis in the fall of 1998. Under the Rabin government, a brand-new concept was developed, supporting the establishment of industrial zones along the border as a means of bringing economic stability and prosperity to the region. The first industrial zone was planned at Karni in Gaza and a second industrial estate was planned in the area bordering the Jenin governorate and the Gilboa Council.(4)
The planned establishment of the northern industrial zone prompted the Palestinian governor of Jenin and the head of the Israeli Municipal Council of Gilboa to come together to discuss areas of mutual concern. For the Palestinian side, the close proximity of the proposed site to the Israeli side necessitated cooperation in several areas, including water, electricity, telecommunications, and the environment. For the Israelis, the close proximity raised questions on the inevitable ecological and environmental impact, and the sudden influx of people, goods, and services.
During the Netanyahu administration, the establishment of the industrial zone was postponed time and again because of a dispute regarding its designated location. Nevertheless, the dialogue between the governor and council head led to a shift in Gilboa's attitude and the subsequent separate and joint lobbying efforts for its establishment.5 In fact, Cooperation North's first major breakthrough was to convince the government of Israel under Ehud Barak to agree to establish the industrial zone at its original site. In order to provide for full Palestinian control, the Israeli government also agreed to change the area of the designated site from Area C to B.(6)
Discussions on the industrial zone opened the door to address other areas of mutual concern. At the top of the list was the issue of infrastructure, as both sides acknowledged that questions related to solid waste, sewage, drainage, water, and electricity could not be dealt with unilaterally without having a strong impact on the quality of life of the other side. For example, neither industrial (particularly hazardous) nor domestic solid waste is adequately managed on either side. Solid waste is mainly disposed in unlined dumps, thereby endangering precious groundwater resources and the ecological system. In combination with the potential environmental hazards posed by the industrial zone, a real threat to the area's groundwater from pollution therefore exists in the area.(7)
The question of transportation was also raised. The area's economic potential is linked to the improvement of transportation links to local, national, and international markets. Jenin straddles the road connecting Jordan and the Haifa port and, together with the northern region, can be viewed as a connecting link between Europe, the Gulf States and the Far East. To meet the increasing needs of the region, it is therefore necessary to improve access routes to Haifa and upgrade links to population and commercial centers in the region.(8)

The 'Cooperation North' Agreement

Discussions of the above issues led to the recognition by Israelis and Palestinians that their close proximity necessitates ongoing cooperation and joint decision-making in a variety of areas that impact on the quality of life of people on both sides. Cross-border cooperation would provide the means toward this end and thus it was agreed to develop a permanent and dedicated framework for pursuing such cooperation. The first step entailed the signing of an agreement.
In the preamble, the partners linked their initiative to the larger political process:
Recognizing that the peace process and the new era that it has created, as well as the new relationship established between the two parties, are irreversible and need to be maintained, sustained, and continued (as expressed in the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement of 28 September 1995), civic leaders from the Governorate of Jenin, the Municipality of Haifa, the Regional Council of Gilboa, and the Regional Council of Beit She'an have agreed to develop cross-border cooperation (CBC).(9)
This illustrates that by building a new level of cooperation between local governances, the partners view cross-border cooperation as an opportunity to jointly support the peace process. In the agreement, the partners also view the role of cross-border cooperation as a means toward overcoming "mutual hostility and prejudice between the communities," and contributing "to the building of a stable, prosperous, and lasting peace." In doing so, they aim to involve "a broad and deep cross-section of civil society actors," to "work together to address all matters of mutual concern," and to "identify and develop joint projects designed to strengthen the local economy." As preconditions for successful cross-border cooperation, the partners agreed to build their alliance on the basis of "reciprocity, equity, and mutual respect," "stability building," and a "shared vision."(10)
The partners also agreed to define and establish permanent mechanisms to pursue coordinated planning and cooperation in a variety of areas. These joint mechanisms are in the form of Cooperation North's joint institutions: the steering committee and the secretariat.
The steering committee is the joint decision-making body of Cooperation North, comprising the chief executives of each local governance, with equal Israeli and Palestinian representation. It is responsible for "identifying, agreeing, promoting, and monitoring the implementation of cross-border cooperation development programs."
The secretariat, the so-called "engine" of Cooperation North, is based in the office of the governor of Jenin and is staffed by Israeli and Palestinian coordinators. The role of the secretariat is to "service the activities of the steering committee and any working groups established by the steering committee."(11)

The Program of Cross-Border Cooperation

Immediately after the signing, the partners set out to develop a program that offers a comprehensive approach to cooperation and thereby peace and conciliation. It is based on the following five areas:
* Infrastructure planning and coordination as a means of improving the quality of life on both sides, particularly in the areas of sewage, drainage, solid waste disposal, water management, as well as electricity, transport and the preservation of the environment;
* Business and economic cooperation as a means of promoting sustainable economic development and balanced regional growth, particularly in the areas of industrial and technological relations, strategic planning, tourism, and agriculture;
* People-to-people cooperation as a means of involving constituents on a grass-roots level in peace and conciliation activities, particularly in the sectors of youth, culture and sport and education;
* Civic security cooperation as a means of bringing stability to the border area;
* Human resource development.(12)
On November 15, 1999, less than a year after its formation, the European Union agreed to support Cooperation North and its program of cross-border cooperation.(13)

Impact of 'Cooperation North'

As of spring 2000, Cooperation North has already identified key areas where both sides agree to make joint decisions and pursue joint planning. This includes industrial and economic relations. Accordingly, both sides have agreed to create an ongoing mechanism of coordination in the areas of cross-border trade, competitive advantage analysis, service provision, training, marketing, and the environment.(14)
Progress was achieved with regard to the issues of sewage and drainage. The ongoing professional dialogue led to a basic understanding on areas of coordinated planning and, thereby, the first foundations for the coordinated management of water resources in the geographical region of Cooperation North were laid down.
Yet another breakthrough was made in the area of civic security, where there is a marked increase in levels of theft and smuggling across the borders. On the Palestinian side, for example, there are many cases of spoiled meat brought in from Israel and distributed in the Palestinian market, as well as counterfeit monies being circulated.(15)
The impact of these illegal activities on the people living in the geographical area of Cooperation North clearly illustrates the need for cooperation. To effectively combat these problems, the two sides have to develop a joint and permanent mechanism of coordination between the local security forces on both sides.(16)
Finally, as part of its effort to bring Israelis and Palestinians together on a grass-roots basis, Cooperation North developed a school-to-school program titled "Cross-Border Classrooms." This project is unique in that it marks the first time that a Palestinian governmental school has agreed to participate in an ongoing exchange with Israeli governmental schools, despite the Palestinian Ministry of Education's ban on joint activities.(17)

Challenges to Cross-Border Cooperation

The experience of building Cooperation North may also provide insight into challenges facing other cross-border areas. The first challenge is that movement forward, inevitably, depends on progress in negotiations between the two sides as deadlocks and delays in the implementation of the formal peace process ultimately impinge upon the informal peace process. In the winter of 1999/2000, when difficulties surfaced on the official track, activities continued to move ahead on the informal level, yet the pace was slower and more hesitant.
The second challenge relates to the disparities or asymmetry between the two sides. This is most acute in terms of administration, as the national administrative systems differ considerably, especially in terms of decision-making. Israel's socioeconomic advantages also have ramifications on all types of interaction, particularly in the area of local community initiatives.
Last, but not least, is the challenge of funding - not only in terms of the actual projects themselves, but also for laying down the groundwork to launching joint initiatives.18


Today, in the era of peacemaking, the conceptual challenge ahead is to lay down the foundations for a sustainable peace and to then consolidate relations. This is not only true in the case of Palestinians and Israelis, but also throughout the entire region. It is here that cross-border cooperation has a clear role to play. Cooperation North - the only cross-border alliance in the region - with its concept of joint institutions, and comprehensive program of cross-border cooperation, is a precondition to achieving a sustainable peace. It therefore constitutes the only existing model for transforming the status of the border area from that of a barrier to a bridge for cooperation and stability. It is not an exclusive northern Palestinian-Israeli framework for cooperation; rather, it is one that can be turned to as an example to draw from as each border area and nation is totally unique. Accordingly, the practical challenge ahead is to see how the model at large can be adapted or modified, or whether new concepts and structures need to be developed.

(1) Shmuel Meiri, "PA and Northern Towns Sign Pact," Ha'aretz, February 16, 1999.
(2) On cross-border cooperation along the French/German/Swiss border, see "Regio TriRhena: The European Cross-Border Synergy France, Germany, Switzerland - Model of Development," May 1999. For more on the Irish program of peace and reconciliation, see Commission of the European Communities, "The Special Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the Border Counties of Ireland (1995-1999)," Brussels, 26.11.1997, COM (97) 642 Final. On other European areas of cross-border cooperation, see "Biannual Review," Lace Magazine, No. 2 (Autumn 1998). Also see "Institutional Aspects of Cross-Border Cooperation: Linkage Assistance and Cooperation for the European Border Regions," Lace Magazine (March 1999).
(3) Aharon Zohar, "A Border of Peace: Cooperation along the Borders of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority," Tel Aviv (January 1999). Draft paper prepared for the "Benelux Project," a coordinated quadrilateral Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian-Luxembourg research project dedicated to examining the relevance of the Benelux model to the building of an Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian framework for cooperation.
(4) See Gershon Baskin and Zakaria al-Qaq, A Reevaluation of the Border Industrial Estates Concept, IPCRI Commercial Law Report Series (Jerusalem: Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information: 1998), pp. 1-4. US President Bill Clinton launched the ceremonial opening of the Karni industrial zone in December 1998. Sagi Chemetz and Amira Hass, "Karni Park Ready for Joint Israeli-Palestinian Business," Ha'aretz, December 15, 1998. German President Johannes Rau laid the cornerstone of the Jenin Industrial Estate on February 20, 2000. Amira Hass, "The Cornerstone of the Industrial Areas in Jenin," Ha'aretz, February 21, 2000.
(5) "The beginnings of Cooperation North stem back to discussions between Jenin and Gilboa regarding the JIE [Jenin Industrial Estate] and Gilboa was instrumental in moving the issue ahead. In the beginning, we expressed many reservations and after discussions, understandings were reached that enabled us to overcome our opposition." Minutes of Cooperation North's 4th Steering Committee Meeting," Beit She'an Regional Council, January 12, 1999.
(6) "Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum on Implementation Timeline of Outstanding Commitments of Agreements Signed and the Resumption of Permanent Status Negotiations," September 4, 1999. Reprinted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jerusalem, 1999. Released via the Internet at
(7) "Cooperation North: Building Links between the Jenin Governorate, Gilboa Regional Council, Beit She'an Regional Council, and Haifa Municipality." Prepared under the auspices of the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation (Tel Aviv, May 1999).
(8) Minutes of meeting with World Bank representatives, Beit She'an Council, August 16, 1999.
(9) "Cooperation North: Building Links."
(10) Ibid.
(11) Palestinian representatives include the Jenin governor and representatives of the Palestinian Water Authority, MOPIC, and the Ministry of Agriculture. Israeli representatives include the mayor of Haifa, the council heads of Gilboa and Beit She'an, and a representative of the Economic Cooperation Foundation. To date, the Cooperation North steering committee has met five times on a rotating basis.
(12) Minutes of the 1st Cooperation North steering committee, Jenin Governorate, June 13, 1999.
(13) 53rd meeting of the Med-Committee: Questions and Answers on Project No. 15. European Union Directorate General, External Relations, November 15, 1999.
(14) Summary of the Economic and Business meeting, Ramat Yishai, April 16, 2000.
(15) Minutes of the 4th steering committee meeting.
(16) On February 3, 2000, a workshop on civic security at the Jenin governorate. The workshop was attended by security officials on both sides responsible for security on the northern axis. Discussions were dedicated to identifying where both sides' areas of priority and concern overlapped. A security expert from the Regio TriRhena was also invited to participate and present the concept behind and work of a joint German-French Center for Police and Customs Cooperation. Sarah Kochavi, "Cooperation in Advancing Security," HaDaf HaYarok, February 10, 2000.
(17) Minutes of the 3rd steering committee meeting, Gilboa Regional Council, October 4, 1999.
(18) Minutes of the 5th steering committee meeting.