Institutional arrangements

In the context of shared waters between Jordan, Palestine, and Israel, institutional arrangements are primarily unilateral, with some formal and ad hoc bilateral and multilateral platforms.

Unilateral institutional arrangements

Water governance in Jordan is characterized by a lack of communication, transparency, and coordination between ministries which has

Case study in Jordan, Israel, and Palestine 187 resulted in gaps in workflow.37 According to Jordanian law, the JR should be under the management authority of the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, within which the Water Authority of Jordan is in charge of domestic water and sewage and the Jordan Valley Authority is responsible for agricultural water and development of the Jordan Valley.38 However, managing the JR falls out of the jurisdictional map of these institutions. Further, the Ministry of Environment’s water quality monitoring does not include the JR.39 In Jordan, authorities prioritize water utilization with limited regard to the deteriorating status of the river’s ecosystem.

The focus of water governance in Israel is to provide water for domestic use and to maintain resource utilization quantities.40 Unlike its neighbors, Israel’s strong economy enables it to develop alternative resources to meet growing demand. In 2018, desalination facilities generated 40 percent of the domestic water supply, and 86 percent of wastewater is treated for reuse in agriculture.41 The Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection (MoEP) affirmed its commitment to the rehabilitation of the lower section of the JR through wastewater treatment, eco-friendly development, and awareness-raising.42 However, the annual reports of the MoEP do not reference the JR.43 The “Environment in Israel” report included the water quality status of major streams in Israel, not including the JR.44 While 60 MCM of fresh and reused water has been allocated for the environment since 2010, Israel’s limited efforts to rehabilitate or sustainably manage shared resources has led to the continued deterioration of resources.45

The Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) is mandated to manage the water sector in Palestine, including securing water rights for Palestinians and ensuring fair distribution.46 While Palestinian water sector institutions do not benefit from equitable utilization of the shared water resources,47 the PWA’s ability to advance wastewater collection, treatment, and reuse is similarly limited by jurisdictional and political barriers. Development of large-scale wastewater treatment infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza requires approvals from Israeli authorities; as such, wastewater contamination is a major threat to shared resources.48 Further, the geographical and political divisions between the West Bank and Gaza, coupled with the dire economic situation, limit the capacity for Palestinian institutions to govern effectively,49 leaving Gaza on the brink of collapse and the West Bank far from meeting demand. Despite these barriers and significant implementation delays, the water sector is continuing to pursue infrastructure interventions and a reform plan to improve the supply and management of water.

With limited coordination, coupled with the pressing demands for water resources, the institutional set-up within each country has impeded their ability to manage and protect shared waters, in particular the JR. As a result, the river today is merely a stream of brine from desalination units, effluent from fisheries, agricultural runoff, treated/ untreated wastewater, and limited base flow from annual floods that are not captured by dams. These conditions, which have prevailed and increased since the 1960s, have had considerable negative impacts not only on the ecosystem of the lower section of the JR but also on the Dead Sea.

Bilateral institutions: Israeli-Jordanian Joint Water Committee

The Israeli-Jordanian Joint Water Committee (JWC) was written into existence in 1994 with the signing of the peace treaty. Comprised of three representatives from each country, the JWC is tasked with any water-related issues that may subsequently arise between the two riparians.50 While the JWC seems to focus on quantitative water issues, such as monitoring flows and managing water allocations, water quality issues and the overall health of the lower section of the JR have seemingly not been a focus of the JWC.51 Meeting dates, minutes of meetings, and decisions of the JWC are not publicized. The JWC does not have a website or any other means of communication with the public, which has likely reinforced negative public opinion of the water agreements and peace treaty.

The committee’s formation was preceded by over a decade of informal, secretive field talks between Israeli and Jordanian water experts. These talks were held to consider a Jordanian request to increase water diversions into the King Abdullah Canal (formerly the East Ghor Main Canal). These “Picnic Table Talks” resulted in an increase in delivered quantities to Jordan.52 While these talks were useful in advancing the discussions between Jordan and Israel on water, for the public, land rights were more important than water management. As such, it would have been difficult to formalize any water-related agreements before signing the peace agreement.

Despite the long working relationship, water issues between the two states remain sensitive. When the 1994 peace treaty was signed, water issues were among the last to be settled, after all night meetings, and drew in the heads of state—King Hussein and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.53 Given the high level of politicization and securitization of water, very little is written on the activities of the JWC.54 Even if the

JWC is upholding the 1994 treaty, by ensuring relative political stability around the issue of water, it is failing to prevent the deterioration of the river’s quality and decrease of its flow. Future stability is not necessarily guaranteed by this agreement either—and the effectiveness of these neighbors’ relationship is subject to fluctuating diplomatic and political relations.

Bilateral institutions: Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee

The Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee (also referred to as JWC) was established through the Oslo II Accords to manage the use of shared water resources and waste management. With an equal number of representatives from both Israeli and Palestinian water authorities, the committee was established to not only manage such systems, but monitor and enforce programs, exchange information, protect quality and supply of sources, and oversee all operations related to water management.55 Israel considers the committee and Oslo II as the final and binding rule to which they are largely obliged.56 Yet Palestinians raise the concern that Israel’s de facto veto authority over all water projects proposed to the committee is inequitable and has impeded the fulfillment of obligations according to Oslo II. While all Palestinian projects require the approval of the committee, there is no analogous requirement for approval on water projects within Israel, even for abstraction projects in the Mountain Aquifer.57

In January 2017, after years of projects were frozen in the committee, an agreement was reached between the parties to reinstate the committee. Yet as of January 2019, only two Palestinian water projects had acquired its approval. Most infrastructure projects are still subject to additional approvals from the Israeli Ministry of Defense. As part of a broader Israeli campaign to maintain control over areas of the West Bank, approving infrastructure in these areas is highly politicized.58 While it is promising that the committee is meeting again, the institution is not sufficiently ensuring water access and rights.

Multilateral discussions

In an effort to advance national policy priorities, as well as regional peace agreements between Jordan, Palestine, and Israel, various platforms for multilateral discussions have been created. The United States historically coordinated these multilateral discussions, although this has been minimized largely due to shifts in US policy since 2016, in favor of Israeli political priorities, and subsequent reactions by the Palestinian Authority59 and government of Jordan. The primary multilateral, institutional platform which currently engages on some level of water diplomacy, distinctly through the lens of Palestinian economic development, is the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC). The AHLC was established as a policy-level coordination mechanism, chaired by Norway, and cosponsored by the European Union (EU) and the United States. Through a biannual meeting, 15 countries and international agencies, as well as Palestinian and Israeli authorities, meet to discuss an array of regional issues, largely focused on Palestinian economic development.60 Jordan is not a party to the AHLC. While discussions are closed, the minutes published on the AHLC website indicate that water resource development and water and land rights have been frequent topics of conversation, although minimal attention has been given to improving joint resource management.

Institutional water diplomacy—is it sufficient?

Unilateral institutional efforts by all riparian authorities are ineffective platforms for managing shared waters. While Israel maintains relatively strong water institutional arrangements compared to its neighbors,61 this fortifies its hegemony over the region’s resources. Jordan is plagued with mismanagement of water resources and poor coordination between institutions and stakeholders, breeding inefficiency and loss of resources in the water sector. Jordan prioritizes meeting water demands, particularly amid the recent refugee crisis from Syria. Further, restrictions on Palestinian institutional development due to the Israeli occupation limits its capacity to govern water management.

Bilateral institutional arrangements, while sometimes formal in nature, fluctuate based on diplomatic relations between authorities, which can serve to both enable and impede progress. Multilateral discussions are the only institutional platform to enable water diplomacy in the region; however, while the focus is primarily on water rights and institutional development in Palestine, these platforms have minimal capacity to advance joint management. Further, Palestine is always excluded from Israeli-Jordanian discussions and works related to the Jordan River, further disaggregating regional coordination.

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