Water as a source of peace in the Middle East

By Antonio López Torrero

The conflict in the Middle East has proven intractable over the last 50 years. However, it is not the first time that an area of the world has found itself in the need to build a lasting peace after decades of war and mistrust among nations. The Europeans had to face that same challenge after the Second World War. Our answer was to bring together the management of the industries more directly related to the war effort, with the creation of the European Coal and Steal Community. This sealed the reconciliation between France and Germany, and laid out the foundations of today’s European Union: an area of freedom, democracy and economic and cultural development soon to have continental dimensions.

In the Middle East, a resource as valuable, if not more, is water. I would propose the creation of a Middle East Water Community. Its mission would be the joint management of the area’s hydraulic resources. These are fundamental for economic and social development and have been a source of conflict due to the transnational character of the aquifers. Her members could be Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Israel and Palestine.

A commission composed of prestigious and well-respected technocrats, a council of ministers and a tribunal would be its institutions. The commission would be in charge of presenting regulatory proposals to the council (where the seven member countries would be represented operating under the rule of unanimity). It would then implement and enforce the approved legislation. A tribunal would decide over any conflicts that may arise in the application of any common measure.

Many of the conflicts, which currently plague the area, could find solution in the new framework. First, the long overdue peace treaty between Syria and Israel. The last attempt failed pretty much because of a few meters of shoreline east of the Sea of Galilee, precisely because of the strategic value that Israel attributed to the control of the aquifer. That area could be designated as a “federal district” and become the seat of the Middle East Water Community. Undoubtedly the existence of a new moderate Iraqi government, ready to inaugurate a new era of peace with Israel would support such move on the part of Syria.

Second, it would allow for a joint management of hydraulic resources of the Jordan River, one of the many sources of conflicts between Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians. This should contribute to the gradual building of trust that is a requirement for a conclusion of the peace process in the area.

Finally, the new community would establish a permanent framework for the management of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in which Turkey, Syria and Turkey have all fundamental interests.

The framework looks familiar does it not? The example of the European Union shows what can be built in 50 years with modest initial ambitions. It will be difficult to find a more propitious moment for a project. After the war in Iraq, the international focus and the compromise of world leaders in re-launching the peace process are already there. The European Union can and must offer a fundamental contribution to such a process: her historical experience and her human and financial resources.

This article was written by Antonio López Torrero, who may be contacted at alopeztorrero@nyc.rr.com. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union. May 2003

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