Dual Loyalties

My opinion on the people who shape our world

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Israeli Spy David M. Satterfield Addresses the Committee on International Relations, U.S. House of Representatives

Committee on International Relations, U.S. House of Representatives: "Committee on International Relations
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515-0128

Statement by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs
David M. Satterfield
House International Relations Committee
May 5, 2004

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Water is a topic of great importance in the Middle East, and the United States has long recognized the key role water plays in relations between Middle East neighbors and in economic development of their societies. Since the October 1991 Madrid conference, water has been an integral part of the peace process, and the United States has worked continuously with parties in the region and members of the international donor community on a wide range of water issues. Over the years, the work the regional parties have done together on water, both among themselves and with the support and participation of the international community, continues to demonstrate that the old adage about the next war in the Middle East being over water is not a given. Rather, our experience in the Middle East clearly illustrates that water can be a positive force for cooperation and does not have to be a negative force resulting in conflict.

Before expanding on these thoughts, I would like to briefly discuss the general water situation in the region. Then I will spend a few minutes describing in more detail how water fits into the peace process, including the ongoing cooperation in the multilateral track of the process. And finally, I would like to comment on the future of water and cooperation in the region.

Water in the Jordan River Basin
As established at the Madrid conference, the core parties to the peace process are Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Syria, and Lebanon. From a water resources perspective, then, the focus is on the Jordan River Basin. In the Middle East generally, and the Jordan basin specifically, the climate is semi-arid to arid, with all the limitations on water availability such a climate implies. In many respects, the water resources situations in the Jordan basin and the western United States are similar. In addition to not receiving adequate quantities of precipitation generally, the temporal and spatial variability of rainfall in both the Jordan basin and western United States make managing water resources quite complicated and difficult. In the Jordan basin, it rains only in the winter, with the rainy season spanning from approximately November through March. No rain falls at all during the summer months when demand for water is the highest. In addition to dramatic seasonal variations, annual variations in total rainfall are equally dramatic. The cycle of several years of drought followed by one or two years of good rainfall that is so common in the western United States is also the norm in the Jordan basin. The Jordan basin is just coming off two relatively wet winters (2002-2003 and 2003-2004). However, the previous three winters – 1999-2000, 2000-2001, and 2001-2002 – were very dry, and all governments instituted cuts in water allocations, especially to agriculture, in response to the drought conditions. In addition to temporal variability, the spatial variability in rainfall further complicates water management. Rainfall is highest in the northern Jordan basin, and decreases steadily as you go south. However, most water consumers live in central and southern parts of the basin. Thus, water must be moved from where it falls to where it is consumed.

As suggested above, the people in Israel, Jordan, and the West Bank and Gaza live in a constant state of water scarcity. A widely used rule of thumb is that a population is considered to be in a state of “water stress” if the average annual per capita availability of water is below 1,000 cubic meters. Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian average annual per capita availabilities are all significantly below that level. Israel, which has the most advanced water infrastructure and water management capabilities in the region, has an average annual availability of only some 250-300 cubic meters per capita. Jordan, at some 170-200 cubic meters per capita, and the Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza, at some 70-90 cubic meters per capita, are under even greater water stress. By comparison, average annual water availability in the United States is on the order of 7,000 cubic meters per capita.

Most of the naturally occurring water resources available to Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians are already being utilized. With population growth and further economic development, in the future those water resources will come under increasing stress. Since the mid-1990’s, the United States, through its bilateral foreign aid programs, has provided substantial assistance to the Jordanians and Palestinians in the water sector. Through our support for major water infrastructure projects and projects designed to enhance the water authorities’ capabilities for improved water management, we have helped the parties make better use of their water resources. My USAID colleague Jim Kunder will provide more details on those programs.

Water in the Middle East Peace Process
Water has been discussed in a variety of fora in the peace process. In the bilateral track, where Israel has negotiated bilaterally with its Arab neighbors, negotiations on the broad spectrum of “political” issues, including those related to water, have taken place. The various agreements that have been concluded to date have arisen out of these negotiations. The October 1994 Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace (Article 6 and Annex II) contains an extensive discussion of water issues of common interest to both countries. Through the work of the standing Israel-Jordan Joint Water Committee that was established under the treaty, the two countries have been implementing the treaty’s various water provisions over the last ten years. Similarly, the Israelis and Palestinians have been working together through an Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee on water issues that were addressed in Article 40 of their September 1995 Interim Agreement. The United States has assisted the parties in implementation of their agreements, when requested. In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian interim agreement, the agreement established a formal U.S.-Palestinian-Israeli Trilateral Water Working Group to assist with implementation of the agreement’s water provisions. The trilateral group has met regularly over the last 9 years. In the case of the Israel-Jordan treaty, though no formal trilateral mechanism was established, we have regular discussions with Israeli and Jordanian water officials concerning implementation of the treaty’s water provisions. Any future Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese treaties, as well as any Israeli-Palestinian permanent status agreement, also will contain substantial water provisions.

In addition to the bilateral track of the process, in early 1992, the United States and Russia, as co-sponsors of the peace process, established what is known as the multilateral track of the peace process. As constituted at that time, the multilateral track consisted of five working groups focusing on: water resources; the environment; refugees; regional economic development; and arms control and regional security. The multilateral track was designed to: 1) support the bilateral track of the peace process; 2) bring regional parties together to explore practical, technical solutions to key regional problems; and 3) build confidence among the parties to create a dynamic that reinforces cooperation and peace. Unlike the bilateral negotiations that involve only Israel and its four immediate neighbors, in the multilateral negotiations, we broadened participation to include a total of fifteen regional delegations and 34 non-regional delegations. The Multilateral Working Group on Water Resources’ agenda included the following four topics under which activities were conducted: 1) enhancing water data availability; 2) principles of water management, including conservation; 3) enhancing water supply; and 4) principles of regional cooperation. In the early days of the working group, our initial efforts were modest, as it took time for the regional participants to adjust to and become comfortable with the idea of cooperating together. Over time, the group developed larger projects, several of which have continued to this day.

Before briefly describing the current projects, let me say a few words about the multilateral process itself. Through 1996, each of the multilateral working groups met regularly in plenary session. Individual project activities took place on a regular and frequent basis between plenary meetings. While the project work was kept focused on technical issues, holding the plenary meetings was more closely tied to the political climate in the region. In late 1996, the political situation took a downturn, the bilateral negotiations slowed, and we had to stop holding plenary sessions of the working groups. Unfortunately, we have not been able hold any plenary sessions since that time. Despite the lack of any plenary meetings of the Working Group on Water Resources since 1996, projects initiated by the working group have remained active and productive. Projects have continued first and foremost because the regional participants – the projects focus mostly on the needs of the Jordanians, Israelis, and Palestinians – have decided the projects are too important to allow them to stop. And the United States and other donors have agreed it is important for the projects to continue and so have continued to support the projects.

The three main water projects currently active are: 1) the Regional Water Data Banks project; 2) a Public Awareness project; and 3) the Middle East Desalination Research Center.

In the Regional Water Data Banks project, Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian water officials – supported by the United States, the European Commission, France, and the Netherlands – work together to increase their capabilities to gather, store, and analyze a wide range of water data. The issue of sharing water data is considered political, and thus, the project does not directly address sharing data. Rather, the project focuses on technical aspects of water data, with the objective of giving the regional parties the technical tools they need to share data that are meaningful, whenever the political decision to share data is made. In the early days of this project, as with most other working group projects, most ideas for project activities came from donors. Over time, the regional parties have taken on more responsibility for guiding the project. Now, the Israelis, Jordanians, and Palestinians meet among themselves regularly to discuss and agree on the direction for the project and new activities they want to propose to the donors.

At the beginning of the Public Awareness project, the Palestinian, Jordanian, and Israeli participants agreed the project should focus on increasing the awareness of water issues among children in the region, since that segment of the populations will be the decision makers of tomorrow. With U.S. support, the parties have produced: a) a public awareness video targeting children emphasizing the scarce nature of water in the Middle East and the need to use water wisely; and b) more recently, a student resource book on water (in Arabic, Hebrew, and English versions), which the parties have introduced on a pilot basis into a small number of their schools. The latest project activity just now starting keeps the focus on schools and will design and install rain harvesting systems in select schools. Teachers and students will use these systems for instructional purposes, and, in addition, the systems will provide additional water for the schools’ use.

The Middle East Desalination Research Center, which has its headquarters in Muscat, Oman, has been operating since 1997. The United States, Oman, Israel, Japan, Korea, and the European Commission have provided support to the Center. The Working Group established the Center in recognition of the fact that although most of the world’s desalinated water production is in the Middle East, most of the expertise and technological capacity resides elsewhere. The Working Group agreed that the Middle East will need to make greater use of desalination in the future but that the cost of desalination will have to come down for its use to become more widespread. All the Center’s activities – the training programs, the outreach and information sharing programs, and the cooperative research program – are designed to increase desalination expertise in the Middle East and to help address the issue of cost reduction.
In addition to projects mentioned above, I should mention two other programs where the United States also has supported regional water-related activities. Under the Multilateral Working Group on the Environment, we have supported a number of activities on the important issue of wastewater treatment and reuse. Also, USAID’s Middle East Regional Cooperation (MERC) Program, which is not part of the peace process per se but which funds cooperative research projects between Israeli and Arab scientists, has supported a variety of water projects.

To sum up the multilaterals, the model for cooperation incorporated in the multilateral peace process is based on the premise that it is possible to create synergies through awareness of common problems, such as water. By focusing on problems related to regional water scarcity, the participants in the process have been able to transcend the realm of competing interests and create a situation in which all parties share benefits. Because the multilateral water working group has kept its work focused on technical issues (while leaving the “political” water issues to the bilateral track), the regional projects developed by the Working Group on Water Resources have been able to withstand the vagaries of the political process. The robustness and success of this approach is most clearly demonstrated by the fact that during the last three and a half years of violence and instability in the region due to the Intifada, during which time political negotiations have largely been in abeyance, Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian water officials and experts continue to work together on a range of regional water projects.

The Future of Water and Cooperation
To date, the multilateral water projects have focused on capacity building and technical assistance efforts, as described above. One reason is that the financial resources donors have available for regional activities are generally limited. For the United States, we have been able to provide on the order of $1-2 million per year for the regional water projects we support. However, despite these relatively modest efforts, the importance of the cooperative efforts on water the Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians have undertaken with our support (and that of other donors) should not be under estimated. The parties have told us repeatedly that the projects provide them with important practical benefits, and they have urged us to continue our support. We have assured the parties that as long as they continue to want to work together, we will continue to work with them.

As good and productive as the multilateral water projects have been, since the projects are technical in nature, we cannot expect them to resolve the broader political aspects of water. Thus, only when the Palestinians and Israelis get back to the bilateral negotiating table will it be possible for them to come to agreement on their outstanding political water issues such as water allocations. However, even though they do not directly address the bilateral water issues, the multilateral water projects do provide important technical assistance that will be helpful to the parties whenever they do get back to the negotiating table. Additionally, in the interim, the regional water projects help to maintain open channels of communications between the parties, which should also help facilitate the restart of the bilateral water negotiations.

There is another class of regional water projects I would like to mention. Over the years there have been numerous ideas for large scale regional water infrastructure projects whose objectives would be to generate significant quantities of additional water – on the order of 800 million to 1 billion cubic meters per year – to meet the water needs of the Palestinians, Jordanians, and Israelis. These ideas have included: 1) large scale desalination facilities on the Mediterranean coast; 2) large scale importation of water from Turkey via pipeline or canal; and 3) the Red-Dead conveyance project. While such projects might in principle be able to help alleviate water shortages in the region, there are a number of reasons why none of these projects have progressed very far. First, these projects would be very expensive, costing anywhere between $2 to 5 billion or so. Second, by their very nature, these kinds of projects take on a more “political” character, as they can raise political concerns among parties that have not yet concluded peace agreements. And third, there are many outstanding issues related to some of these projects, including environmental concerns and questions of economic viability.

Let me say a few words about the Red-Dead conveyance project, since it is an idea currently being discussed. The project is designed to move Red Sea water from the Gulf of Aqaba through a pipeline/canal conveyance approximately 180 kilometers to the Dead Sea. Since the Dead Sea is some 410 meters below sea level and the Gulf of Aqaba is at sea level, water dropping through that 410 meters of elevation can be used to generate hydropower, and the power can be used to desalinate a portion of the Red Sea water. The project as currently envisioned would generate 850 million cubic meters of desalinated water a year for use by Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority. In addition, a portion of the Red Sea water would flow directly into the Dead Sea, so that the level of the Dead Sea, which has been dropping almost 1 meter per year for the last thirty years or so, could be controlled. Proponents of the project argue that this project would reverse the negative environmental impacts produced by the continual lowering of the level of the Dead Sea.

The scale of the Red-Dead project is large, to say the least. If the envisioned desalination capacity were realized, the resulting desalination facility would be 5-6 times larger than the world’s largest desalination facility currently in operation. And there are many crucial questions about the project that remain unanswered, such as: 1) will the introduction of Red Sea water into the Dead Sea have a major negative impact on the chemistry of the Dead Sea water?; 2) while introducing Red Sea water into the Dead Sea to control the level of the Dead Sea may alleviate some environment problems, will such introduction cause other negative environmental impacts?; 3) what will the environmental effects at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba be, where the Red Sea water will be siphoned into the project?; and 4) will the cost of the desalinated water delivered to customers in Amman or other population centers be too expensive for consumers?

Given the scale of the Red-Dead project and the outstanding issues surrounding it, the State Department has not taken a position on whether the project could or should be pursued. Rather, in our discussions with the Jordanians, Israelis, and Palestinians, we have told them that if they want to work together to explore this project idea in more detail, and if they can agree on how they will work together, we would be willing to work with them, if they so desire. Since last year, the parties have been discussing a terms of reference for a project feasibility study. However, up until now, they have not come to final agreement on a T.O.R., largely because of some Israeli and Palestinian political concerns.

In closing, I hope my discussion has demonstrated that water cooperation among the Jordanians, Palestinians, and Israelis is an active and ongoing pursuit, which takes place through a number of mechanisms. The governments in the region have recognized that they must continue to cooperate in order to be able to provide water for their people, regardless of the political situation in the region. And the United States, as it has done for so many years, will continue to work with the parties to facilitate their cooperation, and we will continue to encourage the international donor community to do so as well."


Post a Comment

<< Home