Event Reports

IDC Herzliya Conference

Roundtable on Water Security and Regional Cooperation

Within the frame of the annual Herzliya Conference, KAS Israel and EcoPeace Middle East organized an expert discussion in water security issues in the Middle East and regional cooperation on June 20th 2017. The event was hosted by Shaul Mishal, Head of ME Program in IDC.

In his opening remarks, Dr. Michael Borchard, Resident Representative of the KAS Israel, welcomed participants and explained the German interest in the issue, as the lack of useable water can result to an international problem if not taken into consideration on time. Indeed, Germany is one of the largest donors regarding water projects, example of how water can not only lead to conflict but also cooperation and partnership. He uttered his hoped for a peaceful cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians to that issue in the future.

Ambassador H.E. Dr. Clemens von Goetze, Ambassador of Germany to Israel, aimed attention to a more European perspective. As the region developed strong technical improvements and great progresses in desalination, he sees a chance to expand the cooperation. Also the Syrian issue might play a considerable role in the next years regarding the matter. Water security is one of the main topics for the region, not only today but even more in the future.

Advocate Gidon Bromberg, Israeli Director of Ecopeace Middle East, presented Ecopeace’s work in the field. He then defined water security as “the mean to balance drinking water and human wellbeing, economic activities and development, ecosystems and water developments”. Water security is highly dependent on good governance, trans boundary cooperation, peace and political stability. As he stated, the main regional challenges are climate change, population growth and political instability, but also the national, regional and international levels must be regarded closely. The forecasts for the region are alarming, as the water resources are meant to drop further, up to eleven times less than global average, as for instance seen in the Nile river delta in Egypt, where more than 45 million people live. The cooperation of Israel and Jordan can be taken as a positive example, as both countries understood their regional and national interests. Nonetheless, the Israel-Palestine territory issue hinders the process; as a result, neither the Westbank nor Gaza Strip can note positive developments. Finally, Mr. Bromberg called for a development of common risk assessment and early warning as well as a maximization of effectiveness.

Amb. Dr. Oded Eran, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of National Security Studies (INSS), expressed his disappointment of Israeli politics in the Gaza Strip and condemned the last years as a failure to find solutions in environment and water security programs, furthermore a failure to find solutions in general with the Palestinians. He puts his hopes in third parties, suggesting that water could lead the way to solutions for other problems in the region.

In the round of respondents, Dr. Shaul Shay, Director of Research at the Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS), IDC Herzliya, broadened the view to a geopolitical perspective and raised the point that nowadays Israel is no longer surrounded by states but by non-state actors as Hezbollah in Lebanon, ISIS in Syria and the intra-Palestinian conflict of Hamas and Fatah. The struggle of how to negotiate with this new kind of actors gives the strategic situation another value.

Mr. Ryan Bowles, Regional Environmental Officer for North Africa and the Middle East at the U.S. Embassy to Jordan, centered the American point of view. As he explained, the US government is very interested on water security in the context of national security, and water issues are an important piece of legislation of the US Congress. Indeed, there is a great need for a global water strategy in order to bring the actors politically closer.

As Mr. Oded Fixler, Deputy Director General of Israel's Water and Sewage Authority, pointed out, water is a mean to cooperate and not a cause of dispute. There is urgency for a master plan foreseeing and satisfying all the needs for the nest forty to fifty years, otherwise the infrastructure to transport water from richer regions can barely be constructed in time. Furthermore, as he explained, natural water gets more and more rare and therefore has to be replied by additional quantities coming from non-formal resources. Still, it remains unclear who will carry the costs.

Prof. Shaul Mishal, Head of Middle East Studies at the Lauder School of Government at IDC Herzliya, came to the conclusion that the true issue is how to as the questions. He identified two modes of thinking, firstly the multilateral cooperation and secondly a simple coexisting. The multilateral mode of thinking is unsuitable for the region, mainly due to a lack of trust and another set of priorities, in the case of Israel and Palestine one can only speak of coexistence within conflict. This results in even greater difficulties for a prosper cooperation.

H.E. Gilles Beschoor Plug, Dutch Ambassador to Israel, stressed the already existing international cooperation of the subject. He moreover lamented the missing of representatives from Jordan and called for a more economic approach to the topic: the question how to pay for the projects, as whenever this is sorted, cooperation will be successful.

Dr. Amit Mor from IDC Herzliya contrary sees the issue not based on technological assets but mainly about politics, particularly between Palestine and Israel, and the bureaucracy behind revolving issues of the conflict. He extolled the coordinators for doing an excellent job with a lot of difficulties, but he also sees the difficulties within the frame of so-called prospect of renegotiating the conflict to resolve the issue.

Prof. Mordechai Shechter from the Te-Hai Adacemic College Upper Galilee and the University of Haifa defined the issue on water security as not just a cause of producing and conveying around water, but also about the energies used as well as the impact on health. Therefore, the issue is not quantity of water but finances and political will. He broadened the view to a larger sphere than just Israel, Palestine and Jordan and called for a wider consideration of all states in the region.

In the concluding speech, Mr. Oded Brosh appreciated the outstanding importance of the topic and rising the question how the impulses given by the debate’s participants can be transformed into reality. To him, the most striking point is to convince the international community and to strengthen awareness regarding water security. Mr. Brosh closed expressing his hopes that the next Herzlyia conference can tie up with this fruitful debate.

The presentations and much of the discussions of this round table focused on the need to promote a broader water security understanding between Israelis and Palestinians and the need and opportunities in place to develop a water security dialogue between Israel, her neighbors and the international community

Written by KAS Israel intern. Alice Jacobi