United States President Donald Trump’s long-awaited “Peace Plan” for the Middle East, revealed 28 January, has come under fire for disregarding the political and economic needs of occupied Palestine and lack of recognition or acknowledgement of one of the most contentious issues that abounds throughout the region: allocation of water resources.
Palestinians and Arab League foreign ministers have rejected the plan and the Palestinian Authority has cut all ties with the United States and Israel, while Pope Francis has also criticised the Trump plan, saying that “The Mediterranean region is currently threatened by outbreaks of instability and conflict, both in the Middle East and different countries of North Africa, as well as between various ethnic, religious or confessional groups…Nor can we overlook the still unresolved conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, with the danger of inequitable solutions and, hence, a prelude to new crises”.
While water may not be the sole issue of disagreement, it is one of the more important issues. The region’s population is growing, there is increasing demand for water for both domestic and agricultural use, and climate change is causing persistent and prolonged droughts.
Currently, available water, includes the Jordan River and the large underground aquifers of the West Bank are generally shared along national borders. The Trump “peace plan” calls for Palestine to cede the water-rich West Bank and the entire Jordan Valley to Israel. When combined with Israel’s technical strength with respect to desalination and with Israel’s political might by disrupting supply and curtailing access (Palestine Chronicle), the political “gift” embedded in the proposal gives Israel a water advantage.
The plan disregards prior agreements and accords that attempted to achieve some kind of equitable allocation. As reported in Foreign Policy magazine 4 February, Erika Weinthal of Duke University ommented: “What struck me when I looked at the plan is how devoid it was of a historical context. There was no recognition of the past agreements that dealt with water, or recognition of the steps that had been put into place to allow for water sharing, or recognition of water rights".
The Trump plan addresses water in only one paragraph: “The parties will work together in good faith to manage the details with respect to water and wastewater treatment issues".
“This is a plan that continues to ignore any form of effective diplomacy, holding water and infrastructure hostage to the conflict, rather than prioritizing the basic human needs of the Palestinian population,” Weinthal says. “At the end of the day, water is a basic human need and a basic human right that should not be held hostage to the conflict or that makes one party acquiesce".
Pulitzer Prize winning US commentator and author Thomas Friedman wrote, in a 4 February opinion article for The New York Times that "(Mother Nature) takes the position that water does not respect “political” boundaries and comments on persistent regional drought, rapidly expanding populations, rising displacements due to nearby “hot conflicts”, inability of cities to supply water to its residents for more than 8 hours a week...Mother Nature knows about the lack of rainfall and the depleting waters of the Sea of Galilee; the flow of raw sewage into the Mediterranean Sea due to lack of water treatment infrastructure; the seepage of sewage into underground aquifers...Mother Nature is also demanding that the correct questions be asked: “How do we bring peace to this region in an era of rapid population growth and climate change? Not: How do we bring peace to this region in a way that gives primacy to the demands of Israeli, Palestinian or evangelical Christian zealots"?
Friedman's suggested solution? “Israel and Gaza have vast capacity to tap the Mediterranean Sea for manufactured water, and Jordan has great capacity to tap its vast empty deserts for manufactured solar power. They all should be networked into a confederation, harnessing the sea and sun — with joint commissions to manage water, energy and food security — that would create healthy interdependencies. Then they could all rise economically together. Rather than the siloed, unhealthy interdependency or unilateralism that they are now creating — where they compete for water, energy and food and pollute one another, and fall together".