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Desalination as a Game-Changer in Transboundary Hydro-Politics

Ram Aviram, David Katz and Deborah Shmueli,   Water Policy 16 (2014) 609–624


This article demonstrates how the availability of seawater desalination is important, not just as an additional source of water supply on a national scale, but as a potential ‘game changer’ in transboundary hydro-political interactions. The advent of desalination can change the nature of relations from a zero-sum game based on resource capture to a mutually beneficial business-like relationship typical in international commodity trade. It also allows for flexibility in policy approaches, and challenges the advantages and disadvantages hitherto thought of as inherent in upstream–downstream relations. This has wide ramifications for possible cooperation and conflict over international shared water resources. This study analyses the possible implications of desalination on hydro-politics, and then presents a case study of the hydro-political relations between Israel and Jordan in order to demonstrate how different aspects of transboundary political interactions are already being affected by the development of desalination. It demonstrates the ways in which the option of desalination allows states to pursue both unilateral and collaborative policies that were not practical in the period prior to desalination. The paper concludes by emphasizing the need for a revised analytical paradigm for analysis of hydro-politics in light of the development of desalination.

The International Hydro-Political Policies of Israel

Deborah F. Shmueli and Ram Aviram, N. Becker (ed.), Water Policy in Israel: Context, Issues and Options, Global
Issues in Water Policy, Springer Science Business Media Dordrecht 2013


Israel’s major natural water sources are hydrologically shared with several of its neighbors: the Jordan Basin with Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the Palestinians, and the mountain and the coastal aquifers with the Palestinians. Understanding the water sector management system requires a thorough analysis of Israel’s international hydro-political interactions. Israel water management is characterized by a long struggle with scarcity. It has demonstrated its willingness to do the utmost in efficient water management steps from pricing policies to the use of recycled water for irrigation to a large-scale, relatively expensive sea water desalination program. Since Israel shares most of its resources with its neighbors, a primary concern of its management is ‘water security’.


As long as there was no recognition of its right to exist as a State by all of its co-riparian neighbors, Israel perceived water issues as part of the overall attempt to hamper its existence. While no lines of communication existed, Israel’s approach to water conflicts was unilateral, applying hegemonic, military power to the conflict. Once the way was open for institutional arrangements through agreements with Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, water issue policies were addressed within the broader geopolitical security framework.

The Economic Dimension of the Arab Peace Initiative: Water Cooperation

Ruslana Rachel Palatnik, Ram Aviram, Mohammad Said Al Hmaidi
Presented at 87th Annual Conference of Western Economic Association international, 2012 San Francisco, CA
Israel and the Palestinians share common water resources – some of which are also shared with a greater circle of countries, including Jordan and Syria. As such, it is absolutely necessary to establish fair arrangements and a clear mechanism to match the supply of water with the dynamic demands on all sides. The interim agreements on water were signed in 1995. Since then, vast experience in cooperation – from academic research groups to non-governmental initiatives to the Joint Water Committee of Israel and the Palestinians – has been accumulated. At the same time, significant changes have affected the water sector in the region: on the one hand, the reality of water as a scarce resource has been exacerbated by increasing shortages of natural water resources, and on the other hand, desalination, a new relatively inexpensive water resource is being developed. There have also been significant developments in geopolitical, demographic and economic demands. As a result, the various bilateral and multilateral water agreements which were signed over the past two decades must be reviewed and applied to the new reality.  This paper advocates that the concept of “water” has undergone a fundamental strategic change in both the Israeli-Palestinian and regional spheres. This profound change in the basic perception of water requires a new basis for discussion between the parties, and perhaps might even serve as an example for solving other issues of tension in the region. 
The key idea developed in this paper is that improved efficiency and quantity of water supply in the region as well as fair allocation and cooperation in water demand management can reduce the obstacles surrounding water allocation in anticipation of a future peace agreement.

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