If and when Syrian-Israeli peace talks centering on the disposition of the Golan Heights resume, the subject of water will, in due course, move to center stage. Although the central focus of both parties will be on military security arrangements, the issue of water presents challenges of its own. Indeed, it is likely that water-related discussions will address not only arrangements for water resources found within Syrian territory conquered by Israel on June 9-10, 1967, but issues related to two waterways located to the immediate west of the Golan Heights: the Jordan River and Lake Tiberias.
The purpose of this essay is to clarify the water-related issues faced by the parties and to offer a framework for resolution. On both counts the analysis presented will be largely speculative, because neither side has set forth authoritatively its position, much less its minimal requirements.
Water was an important determinant of the northeastern boundary provided Palestine in 1923 and a significant catalyst for Syrian-Israeli violence between 1949 and June 1967. Should the parties earnestly negotiate the return of the occupied Golan Heights to Syria, the controversy and violence often associated with water over the past 75 years will provide the backdrop to some hard bargaining. Yet the issue of water should not, in and of itself, present an insurmountable obstacle to an eventual agreement.
In June 1967 Israel occupied some 1,250 square kilometers of Syrian territory on the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau overlooking the Jordan Valley and lying some 50 kilometers to the west of Syria's capital, Damascus. In October 1973 Syria attempted unsuccessfully to retake the plateau, and the U.S.-brokered Israel-Syria Disengagement Agreement of May 31, 1974 reduced the area occupied by Israel by some 100 square kilometers.
Preliminary Israeli-Syrian peace discussions following the 1991 Madrid Conference focused mainly on potential security arrangements that could facilitate Israel's withdrawal from Syrian territory. A wide sampling of open press reporting on these secret talks leads to the conclusion that no substantive agreements were reached other than an understanding that the Golan Heights, along with strips (the size of which remains to be defined) of Israeli territory to the west and Syrian territory to the east would in some manner be demilitarized or constituted as limited-forces zones.
Indeed, the question of the extent of Israeli withdrawal seems not to have been settled. Prior to the election of the Netanyahu government in Israel in May 1996, the issue appeared to be defined in terms of Syria demanding Israel's "full withdrawal" to positions within or behind demilitarized zones carved out of Palestinian territory by the 1949 Israel-Syria General Armistice Agreement, and Israel responding that the extent of its withdrawal would depend on the adequacy of security arrangements and the nature of the overall peace accord. These preliminary talks ended inconclusively prior to Israel's May 1996 election and have not, as of this writing, resumed.
If they do resume, agreement on security arrangements will continue to be the sine qua non of an overall peace agreement. If the security issue can be successfully tackled, other matters, including cooperative arrangements involving water resources, can be addressed. At this point it appears that the principal water-related issues to be discussed by Israeli and Syrian negotiators are the following:
• The Banias Spring/River.
One of the three principal sources of the Jordan River (the other two being the Dan River in Israel proper and the Hasbani River originating in Lebanon), the Banias spring lies at the base of the northwestern Golan escarpment. Originally assigned to the Palestine Mandate by the 1920 Anglo-French Convention, the spring wound up about one kilometer inside Syria when the border was brought into legal force in 1923. The Banias spring and the short stretch of the Banias river within Syria came under Israeli control in June 1967 and fall administratively within the occupied Golan Heights. The average annual volume of water provided by the Banias to the Jordan River is 120 million cubic meters (MCM), or about 20 percent of the Jordan's flow as it enters Lake Tiberias. Israel will likely seek assurances from Syria that the Banias will be allowed to flow undiverted into Israeli territory. Syria, which was allocated 20 MCM of the Banias' annual flow for local irrigation by the 1955 Jordan Valley ("Johnston") Plan, may resist making such a commitment.
• Golan Surface Water.
In order to minimize the impact of Golan Heights settlements on its national water system, Israel has encouraged the construction on the Golan of small reservoirs to impound and distribute (for summer irrigation) winter flood flows that would otherwise find their way either to Lake Tiberias or (via Wadi Ruqqad) to the Yarmouk River. According to Shalev, there are about 100 springs of varying yields on the Golan Heights, much of the water from which services Israeli settlements. Shalev also speculates that Syria, should the Golan Heights be returned, could use between 40 and 50 MCM annually of winter flood waters "by using Israeli-built reservoirs" on the Golan.1 Israel will likely seek Syrian assurances that this reservoir network will not be expanded and that steps will be taken to mitigate polluted runoff. Syria would probably resist making any such commitments, but, depending on the tradeoffs involved in an overall negotiated settlement, might countenance undertakings similar to those made by Jordan and Israel in Annex II of their Treaty of Peace pertaining to the environmental protection of a common watershed.2
• The Jordan River.
Although the Jordan does not fall administratively or geographically within the categories of "Golan Heights" or "occupied Syrian territory," there is nevertheless a contentious issue summarized by the phrase "the line of 4 June 1967."
From 1949 until June 1967 the upper course of the Jordan River served as the de facto boundary between Syria and Israel, even though the river fell entirely within British Mandate Palestine. Syria,. which was assigned an allocation of 22 MCM annually from the upper Jordan by the 1955 Jordan Valley Plan to irrigate a farm area near Lake Tiberias, may seek to make the river itself the new international boundary. Israel can be expected to resist vigorously the redrawing of the 1923 Mandate boundary unless the line is moved to the east at Syria's expense.
• Lake Tiberias
Lake Tiberias, like the Jordan River, is neither part of the Golan Heights nor a waterway formerly governed by Syria. The 1923 Mandate boundary kept the Lake entirely within Palestine, placing the line along the northeastern shore a mere 10 meters off the high water mark.3 By virtue of an Anglo-French "Good Neighborly Relations" accord enacted in 1926, Syrian fishermen were allowed access to the lake.4 It is possible that Syria will seek the internationalization of Lake Tiberias, a proposal sure to be resisted by Israel. Access for Syrians may, however, be another matter entirely, especially if the 1923 "10 meter" boundary prevails.
The following narrative seeks only to summarize key points under the following headings: the creation of the 1923 "international boundary;" the 1949 armistice regime and associated problems; the Johnston mediation; Arab diversion efforts; and the water-related implications of Israel's occupation of the Golan Heights.
• The 1923 Boundary.
The end result of a complex, post-World-War-I diplomatic process involving Great Britain, France and the Zionist leadership was a Palestine-Syria boundary which kept both the upper Jordan River5 and Lake Tiberias a few meters inside Palestine. Although the inclusion within Palestine of the entire Lake Tiberias was absolutely essential for Zionist water planning6 (Tiberias being the region's natural reservoir), two of the three sources of the Jordan (the Banias and Hasbani Rivers) wound up in Syria and Lebanon respectively.
• The 1949 Armistice.
At the end of Arab-Israeli fighting in 1948, Syrian Army units were ensconced on several square kilometers of Palestinian territory. Israel, in order to effect their removal, agreed to a U.N. proposal that those areas occupied by Syrian forces along with other militarily exposed tracts of Palestinian land east of Lake Tiberias be designated a "demilitarized zone" (DMZ), whose sovereign identity would be deferred pending a formal peace between Israel and Syria. The DMZ consisted of three non-contiguous enclaves connected to one another by an "armistice demarcation line" which followed the 1923 international boundary.7 It is worth noting that Israel, notwithstanding the terms of the Armistice, considered the entire DMZ to be part of Israel. Syria never asserted a parallel claim.
According to Muslih, "Israel's creeping annexation of the DMZ and Syria's determination to check Israeli advances dominated much of the history of the 1949-1967 period."8 Israel claimed that there was nothing to annex; that the land in question had been Palestine (assigned to the Jewish State by the 1947 U.N. partition plan) and was now Israel. Syria did not claim sovereignty over the zone, but held that Israel's unilateral claim was invalid, and that Israeli actions within the DMZ - especially the draining of the Lake Hula marsh and the attempt to divert Jordan River water from within the DMZ - were at variance with the General Armistice Agreement.
Israel eventually relented on the DMZ diversion issue (moving the diversion point to Lake Tiberias), but repeated acts of violence on and near Lake Tiberias and all points along the DMZ from Dan in the north to El Hamme in the south, characterized this troubled period. According to Muslih, "Israeli tractors would move into disputed areas, often with the support of armed Israeli police. The Syrians would fire from their high ground positions, and would often shell Israeli settlements in the Huleh Valley. By trying to oppose the Israeli challenge, Syria drew on its head punitive Israeli raids, including air strikes."9
Today's legacy of the armistice regime is the "line of 4 June 1967" controversy. At issue is whether to define Israel's "full withdrawal" either in terms of the 1923 international boundary (which would formally convey Syrian recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the 1949 DMZ), or a line that somehow takes into account the armistice regime and the tactical situation "on the ground" just prior to Israel's conquest of the Golan Heights. In demanding a full Israeli withdrawal to a line west of the 1923 boundary, Syria would emphasize that the upper Jordan River was the de facto boundary between Israel and Syria until the June 1967 war10 and that Syrian forces were actually on the shores of Lake Tiberias.11 Despite the overall success of Israel's "creeping annexation" campaign in the 65 square kilometer DMZ, Syria itself controlled some 18 square kilometers of the zone.12
• The Johnston Mediation.
With respect to the Golan Heights and adjacent areas, the Jordan Valley ("Johnston") Plan incorporated the recommendations of the Arab League's Technical Committee and allocated to Syria 20 MCM from the Banias River for local irrigation and 22 MCM from the upper Jordan River to service "the irrigable area in the vicinity of Boteiha Farms" in Syrian territory near Lake Tiberias. The Plan also envisioned "A new diversion structure and canal from the Jordan River to Boteiha Farm in Syria, together with 50 K.W. of electric power to replace water power."13
The proximity of the Banias spring and the Syrian portion of the river to disputed territory in the DMZ helped to make the 20 MCM allocation to Syria essentially meaningless.14 Neither did the Boteiha Farm area receive the benefits of the water (22 MCM annually) and infrastructure cited in the Plan. It is beyond dispute, however that an American-led mediation effort whose validity and relevance has, at times, been upheld by Israel,15 allocated 42 MCM of water to Syria from sources very likely to be the subjects of negotiation should Israel and Syria return to the bargaining table. Furthermore, the Jordan Valley Plan allocated from the upper Jordan/Lake Tiberias 100 MCM (85 MCM of high quality, the balance saline) to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (East and West Banks), a transfer never effected.
Will Syria raise the issue of Jordan Valley Plan allocations in negotiations with Israel? It is worth noting that Syria has more than compensated itself for the "loss" of Jordan and Banias water at Jordan's expense, by depleting the Yarmouk River at a rate of 220 MCM per year,16as compared to the Plan's allocation of 90 MCM; the latter figure recommended by the Arab League Technical Committee and accepted without dispute by Ambassador Johnston.17Elmusa has noted that "Syria has not taken a public stance regarding the plan during the peace negotiations. Assuming it regains the Golan Heights, it would probably rest its demands, as upstream riparians usually do, on its sizeable contribution to the system."18 This stand would be consistent with Syria's upper riparian position vis-a-vis Jordan, but not its lower riparian position with respect to Turkey and the Euphrates River.
• The Arab Diversion Plan of 1964.
Israel's diversion of water from Lake Tiberias was the catalyst for a January 1964 Arab League Summit in Cairo. Annoyed by constant Syrian charges that Egypt was less than eager to confront Israel militarily, Egypt's President Nasser championed a diversion scheme aimed at routing two sources of the Jordan River (the Hasbani and the Banias) away from Israel.19 According to a contemporary account, "The total amount of water that the Arabs plan to use amounts to 77 per cent of the Jordan-Yarmuk system ... This would leave Israel with the remaining 23 percent, rendering the Israeli water project useless and preventing it from irrigating the Negev." 20
Israeli air and artillery strikes on Syrian heavy equipment had stopped the preliminary phase of the diversion scheme dead in its tracks by July 196621 , nearly a year before the occupation of the Golan Heights. The diversion crisis had added fuel to the fire, but the threat and fact of Syrian shelling from the high ground, not a desire to annex a water source, was the decisive factor in Israel's decision to seize the Golan Heights. In the words of Shimon Peres, "The Golan Heights was never historically considered a part of the State of Israel. Had we not been attacked from the Golan Heights we would never have gone up there."22
• Water-Related Implications of the Occupation.
On June 9-10, 1967 Israel captured some 1,250 square kilometers of Syrian territory, including the Banias source, the Golan Heights and the Golan's principal town, Quneitra. Renewed fighting in October 1973 led to the "Israel-Syria Disengagement Agreement on the Golan Heights" of May 31, 1974, which returned Quneitra to Syrian control and reduced the size of Israel's holdings to about 1,150 square kilometers.
During the 1967 fighting Israel also expelled Syria from the entire 1949 DMZ, including the El Hamme salient along the Yarmouk River. When El Hamme, a Palestinian Arab town across the Yarmouk from Jordan became the Israeli town of Hamat-Gader, Israel's frontage along the Yarmouk River was extended significantly. An important water-related consequence of the 1967 war was that Jordan had a new neighbor right across the stream from the intake of its East Ghor Canal, the vital conduit for Yarmouk waters irrigating the Hashemite Kingdom's share of the Jordan Valley.
The major water-related implications of the June 1967 war on the Israeli-Syrian front were three: the Banias spring and river came under complete Israeli control; Syrian forces were expelled from the vicinities of the upper Jordan River and Lake Tiberias; and Israeli settlements, with water needs of their own, began to appear on the Golan Heights.
Yet potentially the most important hydro-political consequence of war and occupation was the growth in Israel of the idea that the water resources seized in June 1967 should be kept under Israel's sovereign control, a proposition that would obviously and perhaps decisively affect negotiations with Damascus, which has made Israel's full withdrawal from Syrian territory the minimum price of peace.
Equating "water security" with sovereignty likewise has important implications for Israeli-Palestinian "Final Status" negotiations. In 1991 Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies commissioned two researchers to undertake a comprehensive study of the regional water situation and the prospects for multilateral cooperation. Publication of the report was subsequently blocked, reportedly because it contained maps "outlining possible lines of withdrawal from the West Bank and the Golan Heights that would still safeguard Israel's water sources."23 A map accompanying an analysis prepared by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy depicted a "water security line" on the Golan Heights which could form the basis of a new boundary; a line which "by and large passes not far from the 1967 lines, aside from the southern portion of the heights, east of the Sea of Galilee."24 The Jaffee Center's "water security line" would presumably secure two objectives: incorporate the Banias spring into Israel proper; and annex to Israel the eastern approaches to Lake Tiberias and the heights draining into it. The balance of the Golan Heights could, according to the report, be returned to Syria. The report was officially suppressed because it indeed suggested that some territory might be returned to Syria without causing a negative hydrological impact on Israel, and that even more might be returned provided adequate safeguards and compensation were built into an agreement. Evidently the report's impact, suppressed or not, survived the passing of Likud and the arrival of Labor. According to an Israeli press report in July 1995, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin told a group of Israeli ambassadors that "the greatest danger Israel has to face in the negotiations with Syria is the possibility of losing control over the Golan Heights' water resources ..."25
Israel's concerns about the water implications of a Golan Heights withdrawal reflect, perhaps, one of the great ironies of the Arab-Israeli dispute. Thanks in large measure to the constant tension and periodic violence of the 1949- June 1967 era, a militarily superior Israel had its way almost completely vis-a-vis Syria on water issues. It forced Syria to allow the Banias to flow freely into Israel, it kept Syria from exploiting the Jordan River and, except for the occasional presence of fishermen, it prevented Syria from using Lake Tiberias. Now Israel may be faced with a new situation: a Syrian Government secure enough (albeit on the basis of total Israeli withdrawal) to make peace. Controversies involving water which were solved unilaterally by force and occupation may now be subject to negotiation, a process inevitably entailing compromise. Peace may be its own reward, but a country long preoccupied by water may find it hard to bargain over resources sought by the founders and secured by their grandsons.
Outline of a Water Settlement
Although it is still possible to envision a deus ex machina diplomatic breakthrough engineered by American diplomacy, one involving perhaps a major Turkish concession to Syria on the Euphrates in return for Syrian water-related guarantees to Israel, the discussion which follows assumes no such fortuitous event. Neither does it assume that the U.S. and others will step in with generous financing for desalination and other technological "fixes" which might encourage Israelis to discount their fears of a Syrian hand on the faucet, although international assistance to both parties along those lines might be appropriate and important.
It is assumed, on the contrary, that Israel and Syria will be obliged to address these matters without the benefit of a bail out; that no one, save the parties themselves, will "save the day."
It is also assumed, for the sake of simplicity, that Israel's prospective withdrawal will be defined as "complete" in terms of the 1923 international boundary; that the "line of 4 June 1967" controversy will be solved by folding the entire 1949 DMZ into a new DMZ or an area of limitation in armament and forces, and that all territory which was indisputably Syrian prior to the June war will be returned to Syria. Such an outcome would uphold, in an honorable manner, the intent of the 1949 General Armistice Agreement, which was one of disengagement and demilitarization. Syria, which has never asserted sovereignty over any part of Palestine, may well, in the context of a comprehensive agreement, find such an arrangement acceptable. If, however, Damascus chooses to claim pieces of Mandatory Palestine, it may find itself at odds not only with Israel, but with the Palestine National Authority (the only entity other than Israel currently asserting claims of sovereignty to the former Mandatory Palestine).
The parties will, no doubt, come to the negotiating table with maximalist positions. Israel will likely argue that Syrian use of water on and near the Golan Heights should be tightly circumscribed, both in terms of quantities and environmental protection, and that Syrian access to the Jordan River and Lake Tiberias is a nonstarter. Syria will likely open with the position that its use of water resources inside Syria is not something to be subjected to outside control or even monitoring. Syria may also insist that Israel recognize the right of Syrian citizens to enjoy access to both the upper Jordan River and Lake Tiberias, either by internationalizing both waterways or by instituting access arrangements short of challenging Israeli sovereignty.
The negotiating positions of both parties may likewise be influenced by regional political considerations involving the issue of water. Israel faces protracted "Final Status" negotiations with the Palestine National Authority over water, talks which may well review those provisions of the Jordan Valley Plan calling on Israel to provide 100 MCM (85 MCM of high quality water) to the pre-June 1967 Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Likewise Israel and Jordan may, when Israel-Syria negotiations commence, still be facing difficulties in implementing the water-related provisions (Annex II) of their 1994 peace treaty, one of which involves an Israeli commitment to help Jordan obtain 50 MCM per year in additional drinking water. Finally, Syria's massive and probably illegal depletion of Yannouk River headwaters has done substantial harm to Jordan, even to the extent of making Jordan's prospective "Unity Dam" (agreed to by Syria in a 1987 treaty) unfeasible.
The parties might well analyze their bilateral water issues in this broader regional context with a view toward applying their bilateral undertakings to the resolution or amelioration of other regional water controversies. Such an approach admittedly runs against the grain of normal diplomatic practice, which tends to isolate specific bilateral problems from broader regional concerns and complications. In the specific case of Israeli-Syrian negotiations over the Golan Heights, however, the parties may discover that their own efforts to find common ground can produce compromises whose political sustainability might actually derive in part from their usefulness in mitigating other problems as well. Israel and Syria may, in short, be able to kill many birds with a few well-aimed stones.
By using the 1955 Jordan Valley Plan as a reference point and guide, it may be possible for Israel and Syria to protect their basic equities in a manner which enables the leadership of each state to defend the overall agreement domestically. An examination of the key issues in the context of the "Johnston Plan" illustrates this approach.
• The Banias Spring/River.
Although the 1955 Jordan Valley Plan alludes to the possibility of irrigating low-lying Syrian lands in the vicinity of the Banias springs, and generously26 allocated 20 MCM per year for that purpose, Israel has, since 1967, allowed the Banias to flow freely into the Jordan.
Syria might wish to consider obliging Israel and substantially continue that practice. It could do so by limiting its own Banias withdrawals to purely local uses (thus foregoing altogether the possibility of pumping Banias water up to the Golan Heights) in return for an Israeli commitment to provide some portion of the 20 MCM not used by Syria to downstream Arab riparians (Jordan and the Palestine National Authority).
In essence Syria would be assigning part of its "Johnston Plan" allocation to others, trading water which may have little objective use within a very small and isolated corner of Syria in order to make a gesture of solidarity with other Arab parties. Syria's high-handed behavior visa-vis Jordan in the Yarmouk watershed, a practice no doubt noted with interest by Turkey, would seem to suggest that an act of statesmanship might be in order. The Syrian Arab Government would also be in a position to justify domestically its willingness to forgo, once and for all, the diversion of the Banias by referring to its high-minded defense of broader Arab interests.
Israel's objective with regard to the Banias is to bind Syria to a legal commitment not to undertake diversion projects; to allow the river to flow, for the most part, into the Jordan. Having already agreed in the 1950s to an allocation of 20 MCM from the Banias to Syria, Israel might prove willing to "spend" up to 20 MCM to keep the bulk of the river's average annual flow ( l 00 of 120 MCM) within the river's natural channel.
A secondary objective for Israel might be to convince Syria that an allocation of 20 MCM for Syrian local uses in the Banias village vicinity is excessive; that the "Johnston Plan," while providing a useful point of reference, sought to allocate the waters of the Jordan Valley on the basis of irrigable land, an approach that no longer, in the 1990s, makes economic sense. In the course of bargaining over the size of its obligation to Syria, the parties might jointly conclude that each can gain by designating several MCM of the water in question to flow naturally to Lake Tiberias for distribution to downstream riparians.
Syria's potential stake in this approach was examined above. From Israel's perspective, if a quantity of water is to be sacrificed for the sake of an undiverted Banias, some of it may as well be used to help in facilitating downstream water arrangements with Jordan and the Palestine National Authority.
• The Jordan River.
If the 1923 international boundary prevails as the "peace boundary" between Syria and Israel, the Jordan River will remain entirely within Israel, albeit within 50 meters of Syria at some points. Both sides of the river will likely fall within a new demilitarized zone and Syria may well insist that its nationals, returning to areas abandoned decades ago, be granted access to the Jordan.
Inasmuch as border security will remain a very sensitive issue between the parties, Syrian access might be implemented in the form of an annual allocation from the river piped to inhabited areas in Syria west of and below the Golan escarpment. The Jordan Valley Plan allocated 22 MCM to Syria from the Jordan River. As discussed above in the context of the Banias, the parties might critically review the assumptions underlying the 1955 allocation and conclude, each for its own reasons, that some part of the 22 MCM be allocated to Syria with the balance going into Lake Tiberias for distribution by Israel to downstream Arab riparians.
• Lake Tiberias.
Reinstitution of the 1923 boundary could place Syrian citizens almost literally within spitting distance of Lake Tiberias. Were Syria to drop its longstanding goal of internationalizing the lake, its citizens might be granted reasonable access for fishing. Depending on where returning Syrians actually settle, it may also prove feasible to provide for their water needs from the lake instead of the Jordan River. Access has its precedent in the 1926 Anglo-French Good Neighborly Relations accord, and would seem to be a reasonable alternative to the tantalizing and provocative practice of placing a waterway completely off-limits to people peering at it through a fence 10 meters away from the water.
Furthermore, the Jordan Valley Plan allocation of 85 MCM of high quality water annually to downstream Arab riparians might, if resurrected, be used to help accomplish the following goals: (1) reconcile Syria to full acceptance of the 1923 boundary, including those provisions that place important water resources just beyond its sovereign reach; (2) facilitate implementation of Annex II provisions of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, particularly Article 1, paragraph 2, point 3, which obligates the parties to "cooperate in finding sources for the supply to Jordan of an additional quantity of fifty MCM/year of water to drinkable standards;" (3) facilitate progress in Israeli-Palestinian "Final Status" talks on water; and (4) establish a basis for the cooperative, multilateral management of water in the Jordan Valley watershed, focusing on the region's natural reservoir: Lake Tiberias.
• Golan Surface Water.
The parties will be obliged to deal with two issues related to water originating on the Golan Heights: prospective Syrian use of that water for agricultural and municipal purposes, and the potential for polluted runoff to enter Israel's water system.
As noted above, springs on the Golan currently serve the needs of Israeli settlements, and reservoirs built by Israel on the Heights can impound 40-50 MCM annually. Shalev also believes that Syria could feasibly impound another 30-40 MCM annually by damming wadis.27 He does not specify, however, how much of this water currently flows into the Jordan and Tiberias as opposed to the Yannouk, where Jordan would have the first opportunity to capture it.
When the time comes to address the issue of water resources originating on the Golan Heights, the parties will likely open by staking out maximalist positions. Syria will indicate its intention to repopulate the area and will resist the notion that its use of water should be limited in any way. Israel, ideally, would wish to dismantle the reservoir and irrigation network it has built and restrain Syria from rebuilding it, thereby maximizing the amount of water flowing into the Jordan River and Lake Tiberias.
The outline of a potential compromise is not difficult to discern. By establishing settlements on the Golan and investing in the water needs of Israeli Golan residents, Israel has already accepted, in effect, a marginally reduced rate of flow from the Golan into its national water system. Indeed, to the extent that Israel has been obliged to pump water up from Tiberias to service the needs of settlers, this requirement will disappear altogether if the Golan is returned to Syria.
A Syrian commitment not to expand Israel's current water infrastructure on the Golan Heights and not to build upon Israel's current level of water usage on the Heights might, from Israel's perspective, constitute an acceptable status quo arrangement. Whether or not such a commitment by Damascus would be consistent with Syrian resettlement plans is not known.
With regard to potential pollution, the central role of Lake Tiberias in Israel's national water system accounts for Israeli concerns. What is often ignored is that Jordan also has an interest in this matter, as Golan winter floods not captured by Syrian darns in Wadi Ruqqad make their way into the Yannouk River for the potential use of Jordan and, farther downstream, Israel. Syria might well acknowledge in the peace treaty its special responsibility as the upper riparian for the environmental protection of watershed areas under its control, and might undertake to enforce that protection in accordance with mutually agreed standards. The treaty might also provide (as does the Israel-Jordan treaty) for a joint water committee that would monitor environmental matters.
As of early 1997, the sine qua non of formal peace between Syria and Israel is, from Syria's perspective, the full withdrawal of Israel from Syrian land occupied during the June 1967 war. Moreover, Syria has taken the position that Israel should withdraw to the "line of 4 June 1967," a formulation which, at the very least, implies the removal of Israeli forces from the 1949 DMZ or its partition.
The current Government of Israel has manifested, as of early 1997, no interest in negotiating with Syria on the basis of "full withdrawal," whether to the 1923 international boundary or to the line of June 4, 1967. A task for American diplomats in the second Clinton administration will be to assist Israeli officials in determining whether or not there might potentially be conditions under which Israel might actually countenance a "full withdrawal." If the Government of Israel takes the position that under no conceivable circumstances would it withdraw from all Syrian territory occupied since June 1967, then there would appear to be no basis for Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations unless the Syrian Arab Government were to indicate its readiness to negotiate on the basis of something less than full withdrawal, an unlikely prospect.
It is possible that the parties might agree to negotiate on the basis of full withdrawal and still not achieve closure. The principal ingredient in the success or failure of such negotiations will be the attainment of a security regime mutually acceptable to Israel and Syria.
If the parties are able to devise acceptable security measures in the context of a full Israeli withdrawal, differing perspectives on the water issue should not present an insurmountable obstacle to a full and final peace agreement. Indeed, Israel should be able fully to preserve its access to the upper Jordan watershed consistent with the Jordan Valley Plan and to secure Syria's agreement to the environmental protection of Lake Tiberias and the Yarmouk River. Syria, in return for acknowledging Israeli sovereignty over the upper Jordan River and Lake Tiberias, might receive access to those waterways in ways consistent with the 1926 Good Neighborly Relations accord and the Jordan Valley Plan. To the extent that the "Johnston Plan" may have incorporated an inflated estimate of Syrian water requirements in the Jordan Valley, Syria may wish to consider "assigning" some of its allocation to Arab lower riparians, thus enabling those riparians to achieve closure with Israel on water-related provisions of other treaties and agreements.
Ultimately the riparians of the Jordan Valley- Israel, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon - may come to recognize the validity of Ambassador Eric Johnston's central point: that multiple sovereignties within a watershed should eventually be subordinated to multilateral but unified management, perhaps on the basis of a succession of bilateral agreements. Israel and Syria, in trying to overcome a legacy of hostility and distrust to establish formal peace between them, must first agree on security measures that neutralize that legacy and lay the basis for a different sort of relationship. If they succeed in that endeavor, there is nothing in the way of water disputes that should prevent them from signing and implementing a treaty of peace.
1 Aryeh Shalev, Israel and Syria: Peace and Security on the Golan, (Tel Aviv University, Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, 1994), pp. 157, 162.
2 Article 3 of Annex II addresses "Water Quality and Protection."
3 According to the 3 February 1922 final report of the Anglo-French boundary commission,"... the frontier follows a line on the shore parallel to and at 10 metres from the edge of Lake Tiberias, following any alteration of level consequent on the raising of its waters owing to the construction of a dam on the Jordan south of Lake Tiberias." See Patricia Toye (Ed.), Palestine Boundaries 1833-1947, Volume 3 (University of Durham Press, 1983) p. 442.
4 The inhabitants of Syria and Lebanon were granted the same fishing and navigation rights on Lake Huleh, Lake Tiberias, the Jordan River and all related water courses as the inhabitants of Palestine, but "the Government of Palestine shall be responsible for the policing of the lakes." Toye, Volume 3, pp. 443 and 497.
5 The final boundary placed the Jordan River within 50 meters of Syria along one stretch just to the north of Lake Tiberias (Toye, Vol. 3, p. 442). "From Lake Huleh to the Lake of Galilee [Tiberias] the boundary runs a short distance, varying from 50 to 400 yards, east of the Jordan River and almost parallel to it." See Moshe Brawer, "The Geographical Background of the Jordan Water Dispute," p. 236, in Charles A. Fisher, Ed., Essays in Political Geography (Methuen & Co., Ltd., 1968).
6 "… the intention of the boundary makers in 1922 was to grant Palestine full legal ownership of the Jordan and its lakes so that there should be no necessity to obtain the consent of any other country for any project to utilize the waters of the river." (Brawer, p. 237.) This may indeed have been the intention of the British "boundary makers," but their French counterparts succeeded in placing two key sources of the Jordan in Lebanon and Syria respectively. Israel has never accepted the proposition that its neighbors have the right to do as they wish with the Hasbani and Banias by virtue of "full legal ownership."
7 Article V.1 of the General Armistice Agreement specifies that "arrangements for the Armistice Demarcation Line between the Israeli and Syrian armed forces and for the Demilitarized Zone are not to be interpreted as having any relation whatsoever to ultimate territorial arrangements affecting the two Parties to this Agreement." Article V.2 defines the purpose of these arrangements as "separating the armed forces of the two countries ... while providing for the gradual restoration of normal civilian life in the area of the Demilitarized Zone, without prejudice to the ultimate settlement." Article V.5(a) states that "Where the Armistice Demarcation Line does not correspond to the international boundary between Syria and Palestine, the area between the Armistice Demarcation Line and the boundary, pending final territorial settlement between the Parties, shall be established as a Demilitarized Zone ... " See N. Bar-Yaacov, The Israel-Syrian Armistice (Magnes Press, 1967) for the text of the General Armistice Agreement.
8 Muhammad Muslih, "The Golan: Israel, Syria, and Strategic Calculations," The Middle East Journal, Autumn 1993, p. 614.
9 Muslih, p. 619.
10 "The narrow strip east of the Jordan was never in fact controlled by the British Mandatory Authorities, nor has it been by the Israelis ... " Brawer, p. 237.
11 "The fact that the Syrians actually hold small strips of Palestinian territory in the upper Jordan Valley has brought sections of the eastern bank of the Jordan and shores of the Lake of Galilee [Tiberias] under their control." Brawer, p. 238.
12 Ha'aretz, May 29, 1995.
13 U.S. Department of State typescript memorandum, "The Johnston Plan," September 30, 1955, pp. 12, 13.
14 "So far, [on the eve of the 1967 war] almost the entire waters of the Banias have been reaching Israel, only a very small part being used in Syria." Brawer, p. 229.
15 Most recently by Minister of Agriculture Refa'el Eytan on 27 August 1996. In commenting on Jordanian-Syrian water discussions, Eytan insisted that the distribution of Yannouk River water be in accordance with the Johnston Plan. The Jerusalem Post, August 28, 1996.
16 The figure of 220 MCM is according to Dr. Munther Haddadin, Jordan's water negotiator with Israel. Jordan Times, December 3, 1994.
17 Department of State, p. 13.
18 Sharif S. Elmusa, Negotiating Water: Israel and the Palestinians (Institute for Palestine Studies, 1996), p. 33.
19 Malcolm H. Kerr, The Arab Cold War: Gama/ 'Abd al-Nasir and His Rivals, 1958-1970, Third Edition (Oxford University Press, 1971), pp. 98-100.
20 Samir N. Saliba, The Jordan River Dispute (Martinue Nijhoff, 1968), p. 110.
21 "The fourth and final incident occurred on July 14, 1966. In reaction to a Syrian attack on Israeli tractors, Israeli aircraft destroyed heavy machinery that was working east of Lake Tiberias about 12 km from the border. The Syrians then stopped the water diversion works." Shalev, p. 161.
22 Israel Television Channel l, Network 2, June 2, 1955. Shortly after the end of the June 1967 war, the Government of Israel took the policy position that Israel could withdraw from the Golan Heights to the 1923 international boundary in exchange for full peace with Syria.
23 Ze'ev Schiff, "Israel's Water Security Lines," Policy watch, The Washington Institute, November 4, 1993, p. l.
24 Schiff, p. 2.
25 Tel Aviv Ma'ariv, July 19, 1995.
26 "The allocations to Lebanon and Syria are all within the upper basins, and water which is diverted but not actually consumed will return to the river system, either by flow underground or surface run-off. Thus, while the allocations may be liberal, any excess will not be wasted since it may be reused downstream." [Emphasis added.] U.S. Department of State, pp. 13-14.
27 Shalev, p. 162.