Yesterday, September 15, 2009, the Geneva Initiative released its long-awaited Annexes to its Model Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreement. Among the various annexes was one pertaining to water. While not the most legally artful agreement, the accord is a remarkable and positive development in the pursuit of peace between the two peoples.
Among the more interesting points is the recognition by both parties that they both possess rights to water in water resources that traverse their political boundaries. This includes the Mountain aquifer and its various sub-basins, the Coastal Aquifer, the Jordan River, and the Dead Sea. This point has been a particularly important issue for the Palestinians who strive for nationhood and the respect due a sovereign people. A related and equally crucial issue for the Palestinians is the acknowledgment in the accord by Israel that a “just and rightful” allocation of water between the two peoples requires a “re-division” of shared water resources in favor of the Palestinians. The Palestinians have long claimed that Israel has taken more than its fair share and ignored the Palestinians’ rights to the water in the region.
In response, Israel’s concerns about the contamination of its water supply are partly addressed in the provisions related to both parties’ obligation to void causing significant transboundary harm via shared waters. The definition afforded to the term “harm” in this provision is rather broad in scope and encompasses detrimental effects not only to people and property, but also to the natural environment. Israel has voiced considerable misgivings about the Palestinian’s ability to manage wastewater and other pollutants in the highlands of the West Bank (part of the presumptive Palestinian State). This region is the recharge area for the Mountain Aquifer and any inflow of pollutants (which is already occurring to some extent) threatens Israel’s water supply in the lower reaches of the aquifer below Israel proper.
One other noteworthy provision in the Water Annex is the creation of a Joint Water Commission, which in its initial stage, would have some authority to adjust water allocations between the two states in response to “significant hydrologic and climatic changes.” What this may mean in practice remains to be seen, however, the creation of a joint commission composed of three representatives from each side with a voting “neutral chairman of another nationality” suggests a serious desire to develop a fair mechanism for cooperative water management and allocation.
Although a full analysis of the annex is beyond the scope of this simple posting, it suffices to say that the accord is a positive development in the search for peace in the region. That is not to say that the Water Annex (as well as some of the others) is not fraught with problems. In fact, there are numerous inconsistencies and amalgamation of disparate concepts that will require refinement, harmonization and clarification.
Nonetheless, the document and the entire model agreement signal a willingness to compromise by both sides, at least on the part of civil society. As with all of the annexes spearheaded by the Geneva Initiative, this document is the product of negotiations by Israeli and Palestinian civil society members (rather than politicians or diplomats), every day people who were fed up with the unending stalemate at the official levels. By sidestepping the political process, they sought to avoid the rhetoric and seek a compromise in the spirit of fairness and mutual respect. Their efforts deserve recognition not only by the press, but also by their fellow citizens and elected representatives on both sides.
I must note that I had the honor of serving as one of a number of neutral advisers in the initial negotiations of what became the Water Annex. In addition, while all those involved in the development of this model water accord should be commended for their efforts, it is noteworthy that the Annex was prepared in memory of Palestinian, Dr. Fadia Daibes Murad. It is truly a fitting tribute to her efforts.