Technical arrangements

In the Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian context, technical water diplomacy is primarily manifested in academia and on the civil society

Case study in Jordan, Israel, and Palestine 191 level, although some political-level technical water diplomacy occurs within multilateral platforms.

Multilateral

The primary mechanism for technical water diplomacy on the political level, in this case, is the hydrological discussions facilitated by the United States, which have been ongoing in the region since the 1930s.62 Since 1994, the US Geological Survey (USGS)-facilitated Regional Water Data Banks project has met on a semi-annual basis to “enable the exchange of consistent, compatible, and reliable water data and information to support decision-making at both local and regional scales” in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan.63 The Regional Water Data Banks program has faced some key challenges. For example, in meetings held outside of the Palestinian territory, Palestinian participants, on occasion, did not receive permits to attend some of the discussions. Nonetheless, this initiative advanced even amid heightened conflict and met during the second intifada,64 which may indicate the value placed on such initiatives by the involved parties. The progress made within these discussions remains unreported over the last decade, presumably due to the political sensitivities of the initiative and its results. However, in 2018-2019, the United States made a significant policy shift by withdrawing support for the Palestinian Authority. While the impact of this decision on the USGS hydrological discussions is still unknown and/or unreported, this signifies the fragility of such multilateral platforms. The limited capacity for the public to access information or monitor the progress of this platform mirrors the closed-door nature of bilateral joint water committees, which likely fuels mistrust between the publics on water issues.

Academia and civil society

There is no shortage of initiatives to promote technical water diplomacy around shared regional water by research institutes and universities. One such example is the German-funded project “Giobaler Wandel des Wasserkreislaufs (GLOWA)” Jordan River Initiative,which has a steering committee of researchers across Jordanian, Israeli, Palestinian, and international universities and institutions. From 2004 to 2011, GLOWA facilitated a series of conferences, panels, and workshops, and its 40 research teams produced more than 340 publications. The platform, which utilized a science-based approach for decision making and planning, developed a Water Evaluation and Planning Tool

(WEAP), which supported stakeholders in understanding the future of the JR basin under the impact of climate and global change.65

Civil society organizations have also led a series of initiatives that promote technical water diplomacy. The Arava Institute’s Center for Transboundary Water Management in Israel, for example, partners with regional researchers to conduct environmental assessments, including the Jordan River and the Dead Sea.66 Another core regional player, EcoPeace Middle East, has also utilized technical water diplomacy to advance its initiatives. Its Protecting Groundwater program, for example, was a joint Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian research initiative which investigated the environmental hazards across groundwater in the Jordan Valley and the West Bank and promoted measures for improved groundwater management based on hydrological findings.67 While civil society-led research has generated sound policy recommendations and community-level interventions, a noteworthy science-policy disconnect remains in adoption by decision-makers.

Technical water diplomacy—is it sufficient?

Despite the ongoing political challenges in the region, technical water diplomacy seems to be the most effective and productive alternative diplomatic mechanism in the region. Long term partnerships and research programs in academia and civil society continue—this book chapter included—without total disruptions from political-level conflict. The objectives of such initiatives are routinely targeted at advancing equitable and sound transboundary management. Generally, science-based solutions are more likely to get public-opinion support over the politically-based solutions; for example, some of EcoPeace’s science-based advocacy led to the release of additional water from the Sea of Galilee into the lower section of the JR.68 However, despite significant contributions from these players, the overall improvement in the management of shared waters has been minimal. While many of these technical interventions are applauded by the international and donor community, these programs have had minimal spill-over or adoption on the political and institutional levels.69

Strategic planning

For Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian political authorities, strategic planning is confined to the national level, while a basin “Master Plan” has been developed by a regional NGO.

Political-level interventions

Strategic, basin-level planning is limited on the political level. National level strategies are largely centered on supporting economic development and national water security. Palestine and Jordan’s water strategies are tightly linked to their consultants and donors, who support the sector in the implementation of national plans and sectoral reform. Coordination between donors, however, is limited on the regional level.

A primary example of regional, strategic planning is the Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance project (RSDSWC). The project was initially designed to pump water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea to help mitigate the latter’s declining levels. However, rather than addressing political inaction and environmental damage to the lower section of the JR, the RSDSWC is often considered a band-aid solution, which could create new environmental hazards.70 While only a pilot of the initial design of the RSDSWC is advancing, albeit slower than expected, this demonstrates how environmental protection may be lost at the expense of national priorities and interests, which are often further enabled by donor support.

Civil society

The most noteworthy effort of regional strategic planning is the Master Plan developed by EcoPeace Middle East, with offices in Jordan, Israel, and Palestine. The Master Plan provides a transboundary water governance framework to mitigate damage to the lower section of the JR and support sustainable economic development across the region.71 Within this framework, EcoPeace notes that Palestine must be recognized as a full riparian to the JR, entitled to access to water and to sovereignty over its lands in the valley, in order to achieve sustainable transboundary water management. The Master Plan, developed by a team of international and regional experts, attempts to unify national plans. As such, it identifies 127 regional and national interventions in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan that could comprehensively rehabilitate the lower section of the JR and its tributaries?3

The Master Plan has received buy-in and support from the EU and World Bank,74 yet the organization’s promotion of environmental cooperation as a means of peacebuilding makes its relationship with the three governments challenging. While several mayors of the communities in which EcoPeace operate have been engaged in its programs, the regional Master Plan has yet to be fully adopted by national-level authorities, and the envisioned memorandum of understanding between the three authorities that EcoPeace advocated for remains unsigned. The full implementation of this strategy requires significant financial investment (USS4.58 billion) by 2050, although the plan has been proposed as a series of multiple interventions that can be implemented individually or collectively.75 Despite limited political-level buy-in, the international donor community has funded a series of wastewater, greywater, and solid waste collection and treatment projects from the Master Plan.76

Strategic water diplomacy—is it working?

Strategic water diplomacy in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan is deeply limited by national-level priorities and political buy-in. While efforts on the civil society level have produced comprehensive direction for regional integration and cooperation, donor-driven economic development in Jordan and Palestine, coupled with strengthened Israeli water security, minimize political interest to improve transboundary water management on the political level. Instead, limited investment is going towards productive, strategic interventions, such as those identified in the EcoPeace Master Plan; instead, mega-projects such as the RSDSWC are advancing and unilateral resource development continues to shape national-level strategies.

 
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