COLUMN-Commentary: To make peace in the Middle East, focus first on water

(Gidon Bromberg, Nada Majdalani and Munqeth Mehyar are the co-directors of EcoPeace Middle East.
For Palestinian communities that suffer water shortages and require Israeli approval to increase pumping of shared natural water resources, an agreement to increase water sales from Israel to the Palestinian Authority by 50 percent annually will dramatically improve lives and livelihoods without creating water shortages on the Israeli side.
This work to mediate peace through Israeli-Palestinian water sharing should be commended and continued.
The United States clearly recognizes the importance of international water security, having recently released its Global Water Strategy, which coordinates the work of 16 U.S. government agencies and private partners.
A logical next step, beyond water sales, would be to negotiate a fair allocation of the natural water resources that Israelis and Palestinians share, thus solving one of the core issues plaguing the peace process.
Israeli politicians insist that a better water deal for the Palestinians must be matched by Palestinian compromises on refugees.
As long as all agree that negotiating over water rights involves cross-border waters (the Coastal Aquifer lies beneath parts of Israel and all of Gaza, the Mountain Aquifer underlies Israel and the West Bank, and the Jordan River shares borders) borders, settlements, refugees, and security arrangements are not issues that must be determined in advance of a water agreement.
In Gaza, the flood of untreated sewage is so great that groundwater is no longer potable, and most beaches in Gaza and some in neighboring Israel have been forced to close.
Advancing regional water projects such as a master plan for the development of water and sanitation in the Jordan Valley, and an increased water trade that does not sacrifice water rights, present more opportunities to help stabilize the situation.
Conversely, the sustainability of any Middle East peace agreement will be compromised if water resources are not allocated fairly and managed efficiently.

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