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Book Review

Spate of studies on water projects reflects Israel's appetite for every drop

Abul Fadl

WATER AND PEACE: WATER RESOURCES AND THE ARAB-ISRAELI PEACE PROCESS by Elisha Kally with Gideon Fishelson, Praeger Publishers, Westport, CT 06881, US. 1993, pp.127. Hbk: US$47.95.

The quest for water to satisfy the burgeoning needs of an ever-increasing number of Jewish settlers in arid Palestine is as old as zionism itself. Theodore Herzl, the founding father of political zionism, recognized the vital importance of water for the success of his colonialist project. As far back as 1902. he published a novel entitled Altneuland (Old-New Land) in which he proposed a number of ideas, some of which envisaged inter-basin transfers. mainly from Lebanon's rivers and the headwaters of the Jordan River, to augment the water resources of and to generate hydroelectric power for the future 'national Jewish homeland' in Palestine.

The acute awareness of the importance of water for the success of their colonialist project fostered a water-mania among the zionists which manifested itself in a spate of studies and master plans that aim at controlling almost every drop of water that flows in Palestine and some of its neighbouring countries. Schemes to establish a region-wide water management regime that predominantly reflects Israel's hegemonic concerns have continued to proliferate to the present day. Nestled in this tradition, the book under review proposes a master plan for solving the water shortage problem in the southern Levant region within the framework of a regional peace agreement.

The book is divided into three parts. Part 1, written by Gideon Fishelson, an Economics professor at Tel Aviv University, provides a brief historical overview 'of the development of water resources, particularly west of the Jordan, and the conflicts between Israel and its neighbouring countries as they relate to the issue of water' (p.3). This survey, which covers the period from the beginning of the British Mandate on Palestine to the present, suffers from excessive compression and lacks clarity of exposition.

Objectivity in presenting historical facts does not appear to be a major concern of the author. Rather, his doctrinaire bias clouds much of the historical account. For example, he is at pains to exonerate Israel of responsibility for foiling past water development projects in neighbouring Arab countries and pinning blame squarely on the Arabs themselves. This is evident in his sketchy account of the failure of the Syrian and Jordanian governments to carry out the building of the joint Maqarin Dam on the Yarmuk. Fishelson argues that the project has been blocked by the inability of both governments to arrive at a water-sharing agreement. It is true that disagreement over water sharing has marred relations between Syria and Jordan from time to time: however, the author's account glosses over the fact that it was Israeli veto that has frustrated these countries' efforts to secure the needed international funding for the project.

Parts II and III, written by Elisha Kally, former head of the long-range planning group of TAHAL, Israel's water planning agency, constitute the major and noteworthy segment of the book. Part II consists in a regional hydrological investigation. It surveys the region's available surface and subterranean water resources, examines national water development policies in the respective countries. explores their major water problems. and provides some projections of their future water demand. The author alludes to a host of factors that contribute to the emergence of a water crisis in the region. These include population growth, expansion of industry and agriculture, increased urbanization and inefficient maintenance of water facilities as well as wasterful irrigation techniques.

Part III, which is the more interesting part of the book, is devoted to presenting Kally's manifold.mast lan that envisions the importation of substantial amounts of water to supplement the declining regional resources - primarily those of Israel, and secondarily those of Jordan as well as the West Bank and Ghazzah Strip.

The major component project of the plan comprises the diversion of one percent of the Nile water eastward 'to the Gaza Strip, to Israel's Negevn and, under certain conditions, to the West Bank and Jordan as well' (p.66). Kally argues that the project would also be facilitated by current 'Egyptian plans to transport water to the Sinai Desert and to construct irrigation projects there ... The joint Israel-Egyptian project under discussion could thus comprise an expansion and extension of the Egyptian enterprise' (p.67).

Supplying Nile water to the Negev desert would relieve Israel of the exorbitant costs incurred by the present system of supply from the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias or Kinneret). In exchange, water that used to be pumped to the Negev from the Sea of Galilee could be conveyed to the West Bank, and possibly to Jordan.

Another component project of Kally's master plan is based on storing the winter floods of the Yarmuk River in the Sea of Galilee. Kally maintains that this project 'will make from 100 to 240 million cubic meters of water that is currentlyrunning to waste available for use to Jordan and Israel' (p.83). Since the salinity of the Sea of Galilee, which is fed by a number of saline springs, is high, the conveyance of the Yarmuk water could reduce its salinity by 20 percent. That will make Israel the main beneficiary of the project as the Sea of Galilee serves as its main aboveground water reservoir.

Kally's master plan also envisages conveying water from the Red Sea to offset the progressive diminution of the water level in the Dead See which results from the utilization of substanital amounts of water from the Jordan River and its tributaries. The Red Sea-Dead Sea canal project would include an intake installation and a reservoir on the Red Sea, an open canal, and 'two power stations, one in Jordanian territory east of Beer Ora and one in Israeli territory north of Neot Hakikar' (p.93) which uses differences in elevation to generate hydroelectric power.

The last major component project is that of conveying Lebanese water to Israel. In this context, water from the Litani River would be diverted via a tunnel to either one of two Jordan River tributaries which rise in Lebanon, the Hasbani or the Ayoun. The diverted Litani water, which is characterized by an exceptionally low salinity level (less than 20 mg/l), would then be stored in the Sea of Galilee thus contributing to reducing its salinity. Moreover. Kally estimates that his proposed diversion of Litani water would make possible the production of a total about 70 million kilowatt-hour of electricity.

Overall, none of the projects proposed or discussed by Kally is new or original . Many variations of these projects have been proposed by others in the past. For instance. the idea of diverting Nile water to facilitate the settlement of Jews in the area was first considered by Herzl at the turn of the century. In the mid-1940s, the World Zionist Organization assembled a team of researchers and experts to prepare a comprehensive study that would serve as the basis of a water network in the future Jewish state. J B Hayes, an American engineerwho headed the team, published an all-inclusive plan that envisioned major transfers from the Yarmuk, the principal tributary to the Jordan River, and the Litani, the largest Lebanese river, to maximize the area of culivated land in Palestine.

The significance of Kally's plan, however, lies in his ability to synthesize these divergent schemes into an integral whole. Nevertheless, the welter of projects, alternative projects, technical details and future projections advanced by Kally fly in the face of fundamental international legal principles regulating the utilization of transboundary and international water resources. In addition, it is premised on a plethora of flawed estimates of the available resources and future needs of regional countries that would render his master plan an exercise in futulity.

For instance, Kally's total exclusion of Syria from his plan is rather perplexing, especially in light of the claptrap about 'peace' in the region that peppers the pages of the book. Since some of Jordan River's tributaries rise and flow in Syrian territories, Syria enjoys all riparian rights in line with such provisions of international law as those included in the Helsinki Rules for the Use of International Rivers.

Kally's plan, moreover, is based on erroneous assumptions regarding the availability of water surpluses in Egypt and Lebanon. The fact that water resources in Lebanon have not yet been fully or efficiently utilized is a consequence of the negligence and dereliction of duty on the part of consecutive Lebanese governments rather than being an indicator of a real low water demand in the country. Estimates by Lebanese hydrologists and the country's Ministry of Water and Hydroelectric Resources indicate that by the year 20l5 the country's water demand will approach its total available resources.

Likewise, contrary to Kally's claims, Egypt is not a water-rich country. It is estimated that Egyptian utilization of the Nile water will reach capacity use by the year 2,000. By the year 2025, water deficit in Egypt is expected to reach about 29 billion cubic metres per year. The realization of the impending water crisis in the countly has led the Egyptian government to embark on a number of projects that utilize non-conventional water techniques, such as desalination or sewage treatment, to enhance the country's water balance.

Moreover, the Nile River is shared by nine African States some of which have so far achieved abysmal levels of economic development. These countries will inevitably increase pressure on the Nile waters as they begin to undergo economic rejuvenation and to carry out agricultural expansion plans. In addition to infringing on the rights of the river's ripal-ians, the diversion of Nile water to a non-riparian could establish the latter' s de facto right to to the river's water under international law. Kally himself is fully aware of such an eventuality when he scoffs at demands placed on Israel to cease its ongoing theft of the water resources of Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and Ghazzah Strip as being 'at odds with international law, which recognizes existing rights as holding precedence over future claimed rights' (p.58).

Muslimedia: May 16-31, 1997

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 26, No. 6

Muharram 09, 14181997-05-16

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