Pursuit Of A Middle East Water & Energy Union

Via The Guatemala Times, an interesting call by Shlomo Ben Ami, a former Israeli foreign minister, for  continued pursuit of a Middle East Water and Energy Union.  As the article notes:

“…the parallels with the role of coal and steel in forging the European Union are clear enough that, over the past month, Joschka Fischer, Germany’s former foreign minister, has called for such a union. So, too, have former Czech president Václav Havel and a group of global luminaries who support the idea of regional integration through water. Having convened the meeting in Spain, we are very much in favor of the pursuit of such a worthy goal. 

dead sea by david shankbone

But the European “coal and steel union” became possible only after Europe’s major political conflicts were resolved. A successful process of regional integration in the Middle East will also require a political framework that ensures the stability needed to make regional cooperation work. All sides need to know where their borders begin and end. And past injustices will need to be put aside, so that the cycle of revenge and the automatic reflex in favor of immediate gain do not scuttle regional solutions to problems.

Here, the experience of a previous regional exercise is worth acknowledging. During the 1990’s, the multilateral track of the Middle East Peace Process pursued regional coordination concerning economic development, the environment, refugees, arms control, and water. It failed, because when the bilateral talks collapsed, readiness to engage in regional cooperation withered under the despair of failed politics and the bloody reality of the Second Intifada.

The necessary political framework also needs to be regional and, fortunately, it exists. The Arab Peace Initiative, first tabled at an Arab League Summit in Beirut in 2002 and reconfirmed in Riyadh in 2007, provides all the parties with a framework to resolve their differences, as well as a political basis for moving forward. Adopting it is essential to moving forward, especially if additional chapters addressing regional security and economic relations are included.

Despite today’s chronic pessimism, the pursuit of a Middle East Water and Energy Union, coupled with adoption of the Arab Peace Initiative, would change mindsets. Together, they would form a mutually reinforcing process: a political agreement would provide the framework in which the region’s water and energy needs can be met; and meeting these basic needs in an effective and innovative way would make the Arab Peace Initiative more than a paper deal.

Moreover, the arid triangle formed by Israel, Palestine, and Jordan cannot meet its water needs unless yet another dimension is incorporated into the solution. A World Bank report has already stated that, with 19 million people living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean by 2020, water needs would not be met without making existing technologies of desalinization more economically viable.

Coincidentally, over the past month, there have been early signals of greater interest in a regional political approach. The Bahraini foreign minister recently called for a regional forum that includes Israel to resolve the problems ahead; a former senior Saudi official met with Israelis in the United Kingdom to reiterate the need for a comprehensive peace agreement; and Israeli Labor Party leader Ehud Barak has said that it may be time to pursue an overall peace deal for the region, accompanied by an economic package, since separate negotiations with Syria and the Palestinians may prove fruitless.

Despite decades of effort, the process of trial and error through bilateral and conflict-management approaches has always ended in frustration. Whatever economic projects have been launched has crumbled in the face of the persistence of the occupation. The problems are too complex, and the dangers of radicalism too advanced, to permit success through haphazard means.

The Middle East can end its state of permanent crisis only if it builds a comprehensive foundation for peace. The Arab Peace Initiative, combined with the long-term development of a Water and Energy Union, offers the necessary basis to meet the needs of the region’s peoples and mitigate future conflict.

The Middle East must no longer be a hallmark of intractable violence. It can be a herald of innovation on issues of common human concern – water, energy, and politics.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 5th, 2008 at 4:58 am and is filed under News.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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