Far away from the media and public’s eye, a framework agreement is presently being discussed by the Israeli and Palestinian negotiation teams, mediated by a persistent Secretary of State Kerry. The core issues of Jerusalem, refugees, Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and security arrangements are surely being addressed, issues that the two peoples have been unable to agree upon for decades. One of the conflict’s core issues, though, could potentially be solved tomorrow, at a low political cost and a much needed political gain for both sides, and lead the way to renewed mutual trust. Reaching agreements on the issue of shared natural water resources must be addressed as part of the framework agreement, and the reality in the region permits such understandings now more than ever.

Current shared water arrangements were set by the Oslo II Accord – an interim agreement that was designed to be replaced within 5 years, but almost 20 years later is still in place. The arrangement is failing the interests of both peoples. Palestinians are not being supplied with water resources sufficient to their basic needs and Israelis and Palestinians together are witnessing increasing amounts of shared ground and surface water polluted – mostly by sewage. Furthermore, lack of enforcement due to a complex and failing division of power between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank, is leading to the creation of pollution havens in the form of industrial zones that abide to no environmental regulation.

Shared water and other environmental issues that know no borders have so far been held hostage to the political stagnation in the region. These issues cannot wait any longer: they threaten both peoples’ health and well-being. The Framework Agreement is an opportunity to pave the way to a final accord on water. The dire Palestinian need for more water availability in some areas amounts to a humanitarian crisis. With Israel’s dramatically transformed water economy due to large scale desalination and an urgent joint need to deal with health threatening sanitation problems, reaching a final agreement on water and environment issues makes economic, ecological, and most importantly, political sense.

In order to raise awareness amongst decision makers and the public at large on the importance of addressing water and the environment as part of any agreement that is to be reached between the parties, EcoPeace / Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) launched a campaign in Israel this week titled, “Water Cannot Wait“, with full page ads appearing in all major Hebrew newspapers, having launched a similar campaign in Palestine a month earlier. The campaign calls on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and US Secretary of State John Kerry to urgently move forward on the environment and water issues in the current negotiations.

FoEME, together with the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) held a conference as part of the campaign launch in Tel Aviv titled, “Cross Border Environmental Issues and Water Resources in the Context of the Peace Process“. The conference featured Israeli Justice Minister & Chief Israeli negotiator Ms. Tzipi Livni, renowned NY Times journalist Thomas Friedman and a panel of water experts, to discuss the need for joint management of cross-border environmental issues, with a particular focus on the urgency of dealing with water as one of the final status issues of the peace process.

At the conference, Minister Livni described how “everything is connected in this small piece of land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River” and stressed that water and environmental issues are “a common denominator”. She said, “we have a common interest to work together, to share water, to work together toward improving the environment, yet, the fact that we have this conflict going on for so many years affects the possibility of solving these issues…. But we need to give an answer to the core issues, including water.”

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, describing the importance of the environment in the region said, “one ‘ism’ that hasn’t yet been tried in the Middle East: Environmentalism”. And in talking about the peace process and the consequences of its failure, he warned Israelis and Palestinians that “Kerry’s mission is the last train to a negotiated two-state solution. The next train is the one coming at you”.

The campaign cites 10 reasons why water and environmental solutions can no longer wait. These are the basic points:

  1. The water issue can be resolved today at a low political cost to Israel.
  2. A thirsty neighbor is not a good neighbor.
  3. Nature knows no borders.
  4. The Israeli Palestinian Joint Water Committee is broken beyond repair.
  5. Transboundary streams can’t be rehabilitated without wastewater solutions in the West Bank.
  6. Shared groundwater resources require a shared solution.
  7. Industrial pollution havens directly threaten our public health.
  8. Unilateral environmental measures have failed.
  9. National environmental treasures such as the Dead Sea and the Jordan River cannot be managed unilaterally.
  10. Our shared waters and environment can also serve as a catalyst for regional trust building.

Click here for a  one-page brief further explaining these 10 reasons.