Mediation in the Israeli-Palestinian Water Conflict

On 19 March 2015, Dr. Huntjens provided a full-day lecture entitled “Mediation in the Israeli-Palestinian Water Conflict: From zero-sum to mutual gains at multiple levels”, as part of UNESCO-IHE’s Master Course on Mediation for Water Conflict Management. He drew on his deep involvement in two case-studies, where he acted as an independent, external mediator. In his interactive lecture, Dr. Huntjens relied on both individual cognitive mapping and group model building, as important methods for multi-party problem solving.

This lecture zooms in on two distinct trajectories of mediation and facilitation in the Israeli–Palestinian water conflict. The first case-study is the development of the NGO-based Integrated and Transboundary Master Plan for the Lower Jordan River Basin (2012-2015). The second case-study is the updating of the Water Annex (2014-2015), as part of the Geneva Accord (2003), which proposes a detailed solution for a final peace agreement between the two parties.

The track-II agreements reached in these case-studies were both shaped within the parameters of a two-state-solution, respectively as a transboundary Master Plan and as a model Peace Treaty. As such, the agreements strengthen the options for future formal (track I) peace negotiations.

Dr. Huntjens opened his lecture with an introduction to adaptive water management, and its potential to deal with complexity and uncertainty in water resources management. Not much is known about this approach, especially in regard to its transformative contribution to a situation of contested knowledge, ambiguity or conflicting views on the seriousness of a problem, its causes and potential solutions.

To illustrate adaptive water management, Dr. Huntjens outlined four different stages of cooperation and mediation: stakeholder assessment and engagement, joint fact finding, facilitating multi-party problem solving and developing forms of agreement that take account of the need for adaptive management. With the case-studies the lecture provided an overview of the subject as well as an empirical-based argument to support the implementation of this type of water management.

In particular, the two examples prove that water-related conflict resolution is mostly the outcome of negotiation, mediation and conciliation rooted in an in-depth understanding of the social, cultural, environmental, hydrological, economic conditions and political contexts.

The case-studies also show that it is crucial to support these processes with objective assessments and analysis, performed by independent professionals who are respected by all parties involved in a conflict. Transformation of water conflicts into cooperation over water is often only possible by means of constant (re-) negotiation so as to assert mutual learning, create trust and dialogue between the many stakeholders.

The lecture reached the conclusion that shared water resources management requires cooperation, especially if these resources are characterized by complexity and uncertainty. Adaptive approaches sensitive to diverse viewpoints and values as well as changing and competing needs, are vital. Societal and iterative learning processes provide one avenue for addressing these challenges.

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