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A Technical Framework Jor Final-Status Negotiations over Water
Water is considered the most important factor leading to instability and conflict in the Middle East region. Recent analyses and reports point to the fact that the problem of water will get much more complicated than will be within the capacity of politics to deal with it. This is primarily because the problem goes in conjunction with the natural features of the region: dry and desert. Indeed, the desert covers 60 percent of Israel, 70 percent of Syria, 85 percent of Jordan and 90 percent of Egypt.
The Middle East also has one of the biggest alimentation gaps; consequently, agricultural expansion to bridge those gaps in the years to come will require large quantities of water, parallel to the highest average of population growth in the world.
To give an idea of the dimension of the water problem in the Arab world: Water requirements are calculated on a minimum basis known as "minimum water requirement" (MWR) which is 1,000 cubic meters/year (CM/Yr). The population of the Arab world is presently nearing 235 million; the quantity of available water per person is about 750 CM/Yr, which is below the MWR. If the population reaches 295 million by the year 2000, then a person's share of water will drop to 575 CM. If the average population growth is 25 per thousand, then the water requirement will reach 295 billion CM by the year 2000, i.e., a deficit of 120 billion CM.
Israel's water crisis in the 1990s constitutes the foremost external threat to Arab water security. Israel's inability to satisfy the rising water needs of its settlements and agricultural projects leads it to try to control neighboring water sources. In addition, the Arab countries face a crisis with Turkey over the water of the Euphrates, and the Ethiopian Nile projects.
The Palestinian-Israeli water problem is tied to Israel's own water problem, on the one hand, and to Israeli political thought, on the other. Israeli political tradition in the area of water is confined to three basic axes. The first is the economic dimension, where the agriculture lobby is distinctly influential. For example, most of those who have held the position of general water commissioner came from agricultural kibbutzim, and while agriculture consumes 73 percent of the total available water sources, its contribution to the Israeli gross national product does not exceed 3.7 percent.
The second axis is the Israeli horizontal and urban development in the 1970s, especially following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the absorption of huge numbers of immigrants into the country. These come from countries where water shortages are virtually unknown and, consequently, their social activities and domestic habits require a high consumption of water not in keeping with the Israeli water situation.
The third axis is Israel's conception that a control of water sources by Palestinians carries implications of sovereignty, especially with regard to the Jordan River and Palestinian water rights.
The formation of a water committee within the framework of multilateral negotiations attests to the importance of this subject in bolstering the peace process, as well as in achieving people's aspirations towards comfort and economic prosperity in the region.
Progress in multilateral negotiations is directly connected with progress on the bilateral track. This is especially so because, according to Palestinian understanding, the issue of water is primarily political. Multilateral negotiations are conceived as an academic exercise of technical use, but lack the competence to advance a solution to the essence of the water problem.

The Multilateral Negotiations

Multilateral negotiations have, since the outset, been restricted to progress in bilateral talks, and were greatly affected by them. Most of the discussions of the water committees have, so far, been confined to a technical framework, and revolved around four subjects: the means for the exchange of technical information among the countries of the region; the means for developing water resources and water administration; regional cooperation, and joint administration.
Their technical nature notwithstanding, it should be noted that the Palestinians view multilateral negotiations as an acceptable procedure from a psychological perspective, as they entail their sitting together with other parties and arriving at a mutual understanding. But the absence of Syria and Lebanon from these talks has hindered this understanding. Thus another formula has to be found which can be updated to ensure the participation of both these countries. Moreover, an update of the multilaterals agenda will help extricate them from their academic nature, in order to tackle problems of essence.

The Bilateral Negotiations

The gist of the bilateral rounds of talks about water is contained in Article 40 which was signed on September 18, 1995, within the framework of the general Palestinian-Israeli agreement, signed in Taba on the same date. This article contains basic points and headings that might prove useful for future action, but it has no bearing on mechanisms for a radical solution to the problem. That is why I can say that what has been achieved in Article 40 contains a number of positive points, provided these are implemented according to the Palestinian understanding of them. Indeed, a great divergence exists between the Israeli and Palestinian understanding of the agreement, which, in certain clauses, are diametrically opposed.
The following table shows the extent of discrepancy between the two sides, even in basic issues:

Palestinian Israeli Degree of Subject
Understanding Understanding Clarity in
Agreement
water rights are fixed to be negotiated general and water rights
ambiguous
not crystallized commercial basis unclear water prices
has limited powers has extensive powers complicated function of
details joint committee
Palestinian Israeli unclear responsibility
for sources
joint-Palestinian joint clear responsibility for
supply


Thus, lack of clarity and ambiguity are among the obstacles to the implementation of the basic agreement. In addition, it does not provide for a mechanism leading to a total resolution of the water problem and is an escape from basic issues, such as the definition of the meaning of "rights," and the meaning of "control," and does not refer to the problem of the Jordan River.
Furthermore, a basic drawback of the agreement is the fact that it retained the formulation of the Gaza-Jericho agreement, signed in August 1994 which, from a technical perspective, has a bad reputation among Palestinian experts. This is due to several reasons: water allocation for settlers stayed as is; the water sources in the Gaza Strip remained subject to available information on the water of settlements; and the water supply problem continued to be confined to a commercial dimension based on the concessions for the Israeli Mekorot water company.

The General Framework for Negotiations over Water in the Final-Status Talks

What gains or losses have been achieved through this agreement is immaterial at this point. What is important now is to find a general framework for negotiations about a final settlement for the problem of water. That is why it is necessary to lay down the main definitions for a Palestinian strategy of negotiation in the final stage, before the delineation of any technical framework:
1. The issue of Palestinian water rights, especially in the Jordan River, is one of political sovereignty, and a major feature of a future state, and not only a question of water shares.
2. A solution to the water problem is pressing not only to the Palestinians but to the Israelis as well: they both face a water crisis. Indeed, this is a weak point on the Israeli side, and a lack of solution to the problem constitutes, in itself, a problem for the Israelis.
3. Any agricultural development within the framework of an infrastructure for the Palestinian people is contingent on the extent of control over water sources.
4. No separation, of any form, should exist between negotiation on water sources and distribution methods.
5. Negotiation over water should be according to the hydrological distribution of the sources and not according to geographical areas.
6. The unrestricted determination of present and future water needs of the Palestinian people, taking into consideration the various sociological and economic scenarios.
7. The principle of cooperation should be dealt with at a later stage rather than at the beginning of negotiations. The General Technical Framework for Negotiating Mechanisms
The figure of a square can form the starting point for a negotiating mechanism over the issue of water. One side represents the future needs in water, agriculture, politics, etc. The second side represents the Palestinian water policy to be adopted. The third side is the principle of sovereignty over land and water and the fourth, which closes the square, is the capacity for shared cooperation with all the other parties on a basis of parity.
From the vantage point of this square, it is easy to visualize the general mechanism for negotiation for final status, which rests on defining the strategic objectives for negotiations over this vital sector; and consequently, the general guidelines, the "technical guidelines" for this strategy are as follows:
1. To cancel all military orders pertaining to water, as well as the concessions of the Mekorot company.
2. To provide a clear and focused definition of the concepts of the agreement. 3. 3. The Jordan River is the political border of the State of Palestine and it is a shared and international water source
4. To deal with water sources as one hydrological unit.
5. Not to separate between the issue of water and other issues, such as the environment and natural resources.
6. To accept the principle of shared cooperation, but within the framework of an independent water policy for each side, and not to integrate the region's water policy as though it were homogeneous.
7. To avoid copying ready-made models for the administration of water sources from other parts of the world. Indeed, the major flaw of Article 40 resides in its vagueness and flexibility relating to the commitments expected on the Israeli side, and its preciseness where the Palestinians' commitments are concerned.
8. To avoid as much as possible the formation of joint committees.
In light of the above, the following table presents suggestions for a proposal for Palestinian-Israeli negotiations over the major water issues:

Mechanism Degree of
Commitment
a timetable for ending absolute Mekorot concession
the concession
with the specification of absolute Partnership in the Jordan
timetable and quantities River
without timetable absolute The west and north basin
definition of specific relative Joint administration
concepts

In summary, in negotiations, it is incumbent on the Palestinian side to talk about principles and not to drown in details of numbers. It should be noted here that we are talking about an independent state, with sovereignty over its national waters, and with the capacity for joint cooperation in what will be defined as international waters.

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