“Cooperation over water is not a privilege, it’s a necessity,” said Gidon Bromberg, co-director of Friends of the Earth Middle East, in a TEDx talk at Yale. He sees the shortage of water in Jordan, Israel, and Palestine as an opportunity to bring these contentious communities together – even more so during this period of upheaval in the region.
Water woes have long contributed to regional tensions, said Bromberg. Water rights between Israel and Palestine were supposed to be settled during the Oslo accords in 1993, but negotiations were unsuccessful and water discussions were consequently left unfinished. The lack of formal negotiations caused each side to seize whatever resources they could Although Jordan was not part of the negotiations, it does share water resources with Israel and the West Bank and thus has been impacted by the lack of formal allocation processes. Both Jordan and Israel have diverted flow of the Jordan River into dams and irrigation projects. As a result, the Jordan River has lost 98 percent of its historic flow and the Dead Sea has lost one-third of its surface area.
Today, Israel has restricted Palestinian water use such that Palestinians have access to water only once a week in winter and once every three weeks in the summer, leading them to store water in containers on their roofs, Bromberg said. Though mismanagement is as much to blame as conflict, he notes, Palestinians chafe under the limitations.
Yet Friends of the Earth Middle East has used this difficult situation to educate the public, propose reforms, and build trust between Palestinian, Jordanian, and Israeli communities. Bromberg highlighted “fear of a small but vocal minority on both sides” as a key factor in preventing dialogue between the communities, but insists that water can bring people together. Neighboring communities have to work together, he said, “not because they’re best friends,” but to improve their own water situations.
Friends of the Earth provides that opportunity with their Good Water Neighbors project and hopes the trust built between communities extends beyond water issues as well. Since communities have strong motives to solve these problems, they work together more effectively than high-level politicians who may not be as apt to collaborate.