Peace pact promises unity in the desert

 作者:繁忖     |      日期:2019-03-02 11:10:04
By FRED PEARCE Water as well as land is at the heart of this week’s Middle East agreements. The first fruits of the deals announced in Washington DC are expected to include a large dam on the River Yarmuk, a tributary of the River Jordan, to relieve a worsening water crisis in Jordan. The first, half-completed, Yarmuk dam was destroyed by Israeli soldiers in 1967, and Israel said it would do the same to any replacement. The agreement between Israel and Jordan, which sets out an agenda for future negotiations, lifts that threat, allowing talks to begin with the World Bank and the US government to finance construction of the Wahda, or Unity, dam. According to Ishan Moustafa of the Open University, Ramallah, a leading Palestinian expert on the region’s water conflicts, ‘the dam could provide Jordan with 80 million cubic metres of water a year’, enough to supply the capital Amman. This week’s agreements also open the way for a resolution of wider water conflicts, especially over apportioning water from the River Jordan. Most of the Jordan’s flow was redirected by Israel in 1964, when it linked the Sea of Galilee to its water grid, the National Water Carrier. According to Moustafa, the basis for negotiations on the river is likely to be the ‘Johnson plan’, drawn up by a US envoy, Edward Johnson, in 1955. This plan, which was never implemented, allocated almost two-fifths of the water in the rivers Jordan and Yarmuk to Israel, half to Jordan and the rest to Syria and Lebanon. The drawback to the plan is that it makes no special provision for Palestinians. ‘In talks up to now, Israel has said that Jordan has taken the Palestinians’ share,’ says Moustafa. ‘But we say our share must come from Israel.’ British water experts who are advising negotiators in the Middle East talks say Israel is unlikely to agree to such a plan before it reaches agreement with Syria to secure rights to the River Jordan’s water after its forces withdraw from the Golan Heights. These hills contain the springs around Mount Hermon, the principal source of the Jordan. A Syrian threat to divert these waters is often cited as a prime reason for the 1967 war between Israel and its neighbours. According to Hillel Shuval of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel regards Syria and Lebanon as having ‘considerable excess water resources’ and that they have the ‘main obligation to help the Palestinians and Jordanians’. For the Palestinians, the more immediate need is to secure rights to underground water beneath the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Since 1967, Israel has prevented Palestinians sinking new wells in these occupied territories. Moustafa says that talks on apportioning the West Bank’s water must wait until there is independent data on how much is available. ‘We don’t trust the Israeli data,’ he says. According to Ibrahim Matar, a Palestinian water engineer based in Jerusalem, his people receive less than 20 per cent of the water extracted from the West Bank aquifer. He says that water for Jericho, which will be one of the first Palestinian areas to be given some autonomy, has become saline because of overabstraction through new boreholes dug by Israelis. In the Gaza Strip, so much underground water has been taken that seawater is flowing into the aquifer. Last year, the UN Development Programme reported that: