2007 GSA Denver Annual Meeting (28–31 October 2007)

Paper No. 10
Presentation Time: 11:05 AM


LAWSON, Charles A., NEA/RA, Room 5256, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, U.S. Department of State, 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, DC 20520, lawsonca@state.gov

From the beginning of the latest formulation of the Middle East peace process, which began with the International Peace Conference in Madrid in October 1991, water has been one of the key topics of discussion. The bilateral track of the process has involved Israel negotiating bilaterally with its Arab neighbors Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Syria, and Lebanon. Negotiations on the broad spectrum of “political” issues, including those related to water, have taken place in the bilateral track.

In addition to the bilateral track of the process, the U.S. and Russia, as co-sponsors of the peace process, in early 1992 established what is known as the multilateral track of the peace process. The multilateral track consists of five working groups focusing on: water resources; the environment; refugees; regional economic development; and arms control and regional security. The multilateral track was designed to: 1) support the bilateral track of the peace process; 2) bring regional parties together to explore practical, technical solutions to key regional problems; and 3) build confidence among the parties to create a dynamic that reinforces cooperation and peace. The Working Group on Water Resources has been able to bring a broad range of technical expertise and resources to bear on water problems in the region.

The model for cooperation developed in the multilateral peace process is based on the premise that it is possible to create synergies through awareness of common problems, such as water. Because the Working Group on Water Resources has kept its work focused on technical issues (while leaving the “political” water issues to the bilateral track), the regional projects initiated by the working group have been able to withstand the ups and downs of the political process. The robustness and success of this approach is most clearly demonstrated by the fact that during the last several years of instability in the region, when there has been little progress on political issues, Israeli and Arab water officials and experts have continued to work together on a range of multilateral, regional water projects. Our experience in the Middle East peace process clearly illustrates that water can be a positive force that fosters cooperation rather than a negative one that leads to conflict.