03/19/2013 04:41

Two experts present ‘road map’ on using natural resource as way to jump-start Israeli-Palestinian talks.

In an effort to support the possibility of achieving regional peace by beginning with cooperation on a shared natural resource, representatives of two local organizations sent US President Barack Obama a “road map” to Middle East peace that starts with water.

Because of the Palestinian Authority’s “dire need” for water, Israel’s increased water supply due to desalination and the joint need between the two to cope with untreated sewage, the issue of water could serve as a catalyst for generating a future overall peace agreement, the road map said. Encouraging an agreement on water issues could therefore only benefit both populations, wrote the authors – Israel director of Friends of the Earth Middle East Gidon Bromberg and Oded Eran, a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies and a former ambassador to the European Union and Jordan.

Bromberg and Eran stressed that they felt that any water agreement would be a final accord on water and not an interim process, as was the Oslo agreement of 1993.

Forming such an agreement would help generate trust between two contentious groups and “give hope to both peoples that a diplomatic solution to their conflict is possible,” the authors said.

Meanwhile, because the Israeli government is unlikely to bend on removing settlements or sharing sovereignty of Jerusalem in the time being, a more “incremental solution” such as a water agreement could be the “urgently needed win-win” for the two sides by mapping out the water rights of each group, the road map said.

In order to move such a plan forward, Bromberg and Eran suggested first that the Israeli government commit to a measure of goodwill – providing an additional 30 million cubic meters of water to the Palestinian Water Authority annually, at no cost, with southern West Bank cities becoming the first beneficiaries of the water.

For its part, the PA would need to declare that a World Bank sewage treatment plant planned for Hebron would be expanded to be able to treat all Palestinian sewage, which currently flows into Israel, the authors said.

Following these commitments, the two parties would jointly begin negotiations toward a final water accord, with mediators suggesting that such talks go on for no more than six months.

The accord itself would be based on principles of economic efficiency, social equality, ecological sustainability and practicality, the authors wrote. An ideal accord would mandate the creation of a Bilateral Water Commission, which would replace today’s Joint Water Committee and make decisions on delivery of shared water and removal of sewage, as well as rates of water extraction. Within the commission would be an Office of Science Advisors made up of professional staff from both sides that could provide recommendations to the larger body.

In addition to the Bilateral Water Commission would be a Water Mediation Board, which would be able to take action if the commission is unable to accept a decision drafted by the Office of Science Advisors, the authors explained. Both the commission and the board would have equal numbers of Israeli and Palestinian representatives, plus one member from outside the region, they added.

“The guiding paradigm until this very moment has been that we need to agree on all the major core issues before there can be any agreement – that is to say we need to solve Jerusalem, refugees, the whole territorial issues before we can make an agreement,” Eran told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

“What we propose is changing the paradigm.”

While the end-goal would remain the same – providing a comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – Eran stressed that the road map suggests beginning with feasible “issues that can be agreed upon now.”

Water, to the authors, is an obvious issue to begin with because the Palestinians can benefit almost immediately with increased amounts of the resource to their villages, and Israel can benefit in the context of coping with environmental problems posed by sewage, Eran explained.

Before drafting the proposal, Eran said that he and Bromberg visited the Hebron area to observe the sewage flowing through the Hebron Stream. The poisonous materials filling those waters cross through both Palestinian and Israeli urban centers, and into the Mediterranean Sea, he noted.

Eran said that the authors passed on their road map to US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, who said he would relay the proposal to the president.

“We would have liked to see the president of the US launch the negotiations over water and invite the two sides to come to Washington,” Eran said, noting, however, that they have not yet received a response. “In our view, this could be done fairly.”

First and foremost, such a road map to peace has a capacity to be more productive than the Oslo agreement because it is final rather than temporary, Bromberg added.

“It creates a precedent that we can reach a final agreement and in the process shows that there are partners to the process on both sides, and that a mechanism would be put in place that builds trust between the two parties – which is very much the missing link,” he said.