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Approaches to Water Dispute Resolution: Applications to Arab-Israeli Negotiations

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Increasing and competing demands among countries for water is a major cause of international disputes. This article builds on research of negotiation processes and institutional frameworks of international river basin management. Its focus is the search for effective approaches that can be applied to the resolution of Arab-Israeli water disputes. While every dispute is unique, the Arab-Israeli situation is not the only case with stubborn and long-standing enmities, shortages of water resources, political and economic power imbalances, absences from negotiations of vital riparians, and rapidly changing political climates. In the Arab-Israeli water dispute, there are both parallels and lessons to be learned from the situations in other river basins.

The treaties that have thus far emerged from Arab-Israeli negotiations are briefly reviewed, as is the potential for future regional agreements. The history of other river basin negotiations is useful in charting the future directions of the Arab-Israeli water conflict. Issues include options and modes of negotiation, information and technology sharing, the importance of the geopolitical climate, comprehensive versus incremental agreements, linkage of water agreements to environmental and other issues, the power balance among participants, cost-sharing strategies, and institutions, and the capacity for implementation.

Although the strained political relations between Arabs and Israelis have worsened in the past year and one-half, the water treaties do not seem endangered for the most part. Indeed, water negotiations may again become one of the confidence-building measures that can facilitate other more general negotiations, after the current stalemate is broken.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Geography, University of Haifa, 31905 Haifa, Israel


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