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Water holds the key in Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Fair and efficient division of resource between Israel and Palestine can unlock greater stability in region

Israelis and Palestinians alike have approached peace negotiations with the flawed assumption that, in order to reach an agreement, all core issues must be solved simultaneously.

It is important to point out that when US President Donald Trump's Middle East envoy, Mr Jason Greenblatt, was looking for an early success in the new administration's peace efforts, he found it - in water.

For Palestinians who suffer water shortages, an agreement to increase water sales from Israel to the Palestinian Authority by 50 per cent annually will improve lives without creating shortages on the Israeli side.

This effort to mediate peace through water sharing should be commended and continued.

To ensure the US does not undercut its own efforts, the Trump administration must re-evaluate some of its policies from a water security perspective - any further reduction in Palestinian access to water could destabilise the region.

The Israeli government recognises water as a security issue as well, and that is a potential game-changer in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

For the Palestinian government, the priority is to increase water provision to meet basic needs, supporting economic growth and its aspirations for a state with the right to access and develop its own resources.

Meanwhile, Israel is proud of its leading role in advancing technologies that can produce large quantities of drinking water from the salty Mediterranean. Once arid, it no longer need suffer water shortages.

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.

But both sides have shortsightedly refused to negotiate over natural water reallocation, wanting any water deal to remain part of a negotiation on other final-status issues, such as borders and refugees.

Israeli politicians insist a better water deal for the Palestinians must be matched by compromises on refugees, while Palestinian politicians argue that a fair water agreement would make the Israeli side look good.

They say they cannot afford to allow the need for a water deal to relieve pressure to resolve other issues.

Both sides contend that, without also agreeing on borders and settlements, they will not know which natural water resources belong to whom.

These arguments ring hollow and, for both sides, the costs of holding water hostage are simply too high. Water, like money, is fungible.

As long as all agree that negotiating over water rights involves cross-border waters, borders, settlements, refugees and security arrangements are not issues that must be determined in advance of a water agreement.

Lack of access to safe water leads to the spread of diseases, none of which recognise political borders.

We urge the Trump administration to think outside the box and to prioritise water projects.

Israelis and Palestinians need a sustainable path to peace based on mutual respect and recognition. By advancing a policy that impacts every life, every day, we can restore hope in the possibility of peace, one glass at a time. - REUTERS

The writers are the co-directors of EcoPeace Middle East, which promotes water diplomacy efforts in the region.

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