NATO Book - Peace Canal on the Golan Heights
Peac Canl on th Glan Heights - risks and benefits for regional cooperation in water in the Middle East (Boz wachtel and Dr. Alon Liel)
Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Transcripts - NATO Book - Peace Canal on the Golan Heights
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THE “PEACE CANAL ON THE GOLAN” PROPOSAL: BENEFITS
AND RISKS TO REGIONAL WATER COOPERATION
IN THE MIDDLE EAST
BOAZ WACHTEL1∗ AND ALON LIEL2
Independent peace/water activist, Former guest
researcher at Freedom House Nyc.
Former Director General, Israeli Ministry of Foreign
Affairs, Currently-Lecturer, Tel Aviv University
in the Conflict Resolution Program
Abstract: Peace and water are interlinked existential variables in very short
supply in the Middle East. ‘The Peace Canal on the Golan Heights Plan’ (1991)
welds these two variables together in a project that provides mechanisms for
peace and confidence-building measures, additional water supplies to the countries
sharing the Jordan River watershed (excluding Lebanon) and a way to restore
the Sea of Galilee, Jordan River and Dead Sea with potable water. Other alter-
natives to augment the regional water supplies and save the Dead Sea do not
show the same promise. For example, the proposed Red–Dead conduit project is
likely to cause irreversible damage to the chemical composition of the Dead
Sea, and desalination projects on the Mediterranean coast are insufficient to
make the required regional impact due to high cost of water, economic and geo-
graphic disparities among the parties and the severity of the regional water crisis.
The Peace Canal plan is a win–win, conflict resolution proposal designed to
address both the regional water scarcity problem and support the attainment of
an Israeli–Syrian and Israeli–Palestinian peace agreements. This chapter describes:
(1) the Peace Canal Plan, (2) the history of the Plan in a political and hydrological
context, (3) The positions of the parties on Turkish water exports to the M.E
and their feedback on the Plan, and (4) the risks and benefits of the Plan.
Keywords: Water; peace; the Peace Canal on the Golan Heights Plan (“the Peace Canal
Plan” or “the Plan”); Turkey; Syria; Israel; Jordan, Palestinian Authority; water imports;
regional water plan
1. Overview of the Proposed Peace Canal Plan
The Peace Canal Plan was initially conceived and formulated after the Madrid
Peace Conference (1991) by Boaz Wachtel, an autodidactic Israeli water expert,
P.O. Box 3577, Kefar Netter, 40593 Israel; Tel: 972-544573679; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
C. Lipchin et al. (eds.), The Jordan River and Dead Sea Basin: Cooperation Amid Conflict, 235
© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2009
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236 B. WACHTEL AND A. LIEL
later affiliated with Freedom House.1 The original author’s version has since
been modified to include constructive feedback from the relevant parties, most
notably from the Turkish government.
The revised ‘Plan’ is relevant now as ever. Its aim is multifold:
• Help Syria and Israel sign a simultaneous peace and water agreement with
additional water from Turkey, backed by international guarantees.
• Stabilize and increase water inventories in northern Jordan, western Syria,
Israel and Palestine (the project does not include Lebanon).
• Produce hydroelectric power on the slopes of the Heights.
• Restore the Sea of Galilee, Jordan River and the Dead Sea’s past qualities.
• Facilitate a safe Israeli withdrawal from and the demilitarization of the
• Influence the Israeli public to support a Syrian–Israeli peace/water agreement.
• Create and sustain regional, transboundary water and economic cooperation
to support and preserve peace and hydrological stability.
The “Peace Canal Plan” is based on the purchase from Turkey of about 3–4
billion cubic meters (BCM) of water per year for an even and flexible
distribution between Syria, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The water would be diverted from the Ceyhan and Seyhan rivers, then
distributed (about 500 million cubic meters [MCM] per year) via western Syria
in two underground pipelines and closed canals between each of the buying
parties (Figure 1).
In Syria, the water could be used in western cities that lack adequate water
of good quality, as well as on the Golan Heights, where Syria plans to resettle
thousands of people following peace. The Jordanian share could be pumped
from the canal on the Golan Heights to cities on the elevated Jordanian plateau
and for agricultural and domestic use in the Jordan Valley. Israeli and Palestinian
shares could be used to recharge the Coastal, Mountain and Gaza aquifers and
support an equitable water sharing agreement. Additional quantity of water
(about 1.6 BCM/year for 20 years and 1.2 BCM/year thereafter) could be
purchased from Turkey by the Israeli/Jordanian governments and Potash
industries and conveyed through the Peace Canal to revitalize the Jordan River
and slow the rapid decline of the Dead Sea level with potable water. The water
is also designated to foster more Palestinian/Israeli/Jordanian agricultural
production in the Jordan Valley.
Freedom House is a US-based international NGO that conducts research and advocacy on democracy,
political freedom and human rights. See website www.freedomhouse.org.
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THE ‘PEACE ON THE GOLAN’ PROPOSAL 237
The Peace Canal Project is also designed to produce a few dozen megawatts
of hydroelectricity on the western and southern slopes of the Golan Heights that
would offset the energy required to convey the water over 700 km. Estimates
suggest that the project would indeed be self sufficient, and excess power
generated would be distributed among the parties.
The section of the project that runs 40 km north–south along the current
Syrian–Israeli border on the Heights should be built as a wide and deep open water
canal (Figure 2). This canal would have 2 adjunct smaller canals, one on either
side to allow the continuity of the water flow while performing maintenance on the
main canal. The main canal could serve as a shared reservoir for the Syrians and
Jordanians on the Golan Heights and as a pumped storage reservoir vis-à-vis the
Sea of Galilee, used in electricity production during peak and off-peak hours.
Figure 1. Map of Proposed Peace Canal on the Golan Heights
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238 B. WACHTEL AND A. LIEL
Additional benefit of the canals is that they could also serve as a tank barrier to
deter and delay surprise armored attacks from either side into a future demilitarized
Golan Heights and help reduce Israeli public resistance to a military withdrawal
from the Golan. Together, these elements add water, energy and physical security
for all parties without infringing upon the territorial integrity or the water
inventory of either side.
The project could be constructed within 3–4 years with standard technologies,
using local firms, materials and labor from each country, as well as private or
international institutional capital (Hydroelectric stations will be bought from or
donated by donor countries). The project requires G8 countries and International
(UN) guarantees to provide the necessary level of security for the parties. Due
to the large economies of scale and the self production of energy needed to
transfer the water from Turkey to recipients, the price per centimeter for final
users is estimated at under $0.60.
Figure 2. Water Canal on current Syrian–Israeli border
2. The Peace Canal Plan: Historical Background
The Peace Canal Plan was conceived after the October 1991 Madrid Peace
Conference with the realization that, without a large additional quantity of water
produced or delivered to Jordan River Basin countries, stability of current and
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THE ‘PEACE ON THE GOLAN’ PROPOSAL 239
future hydrological and political agreements is in grave danger. It became
obvious that the regional water problem requires a regional solution. The period
of study and analysis that followed reviewed existing options to relieve Middle
Eastern water scarcity and reverse the damage to the rapidly declining Dead Sea
and Jordan River. The conclusion was that no one option was enough to address
the problem on a regional scale, but rather that multiple, coordinated water use
efficiency, management and augmentation approaches were necessary to make
a regional impact. It also became evident that Turkey held the key for a regional
impact for two reasons. Firstly, it enjoys water surplus in the south central part
of the country. Secondly, it expressed the political will to export some of that
surplus to the Middle East.
After the Peace Canal Plan was put into writing, various respected figures
were contacted for initial response. The Office of the Former US President
Carter responded, saying: “The idea is unique since it combines alternative
solutions to the problem of water with security considerations” (Mitchell,
1992). Later, Wachtel published a series of articles describing the project in US,
Israeli, and Turkish media (e.g. Wachtel, 1991a, b, 1992a, b). In the following
years, he presented the Peace Canal Initiative at various international water and
conflict resolution conferences. In early 1992, Bruce McColm, Executive Director
of Freedom House, invited the first author to work as a guest researcher. He
stated: “Access to water is a basic human rights issue,” and fully recognized the
Plan’s potential for enhancing human rights and conflict resolution in the Middle
In September of 1992, the United Nations sponsored a conflict-resolution
conference among various NGOs in New York. The Peace Canal Plan was one
of 13 proposed conflict resolution agendas selected for presentation from over
400 of those from NGOs in attendance. Consecutively, numerous meetings took
place between a host of decision-makers, including the Jordanian Ambassador
to the UN, Turkish officials in Washington and Ankara, officials from the
Israeli Ministry of Agriculture and Foreign Affairs, Palestinian officials, and
representatives from Middle East-related institutions in the US, including the
State Department and the Middle East Institute. These efforts led the United
States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to add the following amendment
to the 1993 US Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs
In addition, the Committee recommends that AID (Agency for International
Development) and the Department of State, in conjunction with other appropriate
U.S. and international agencies and institutions, review a series of innovative
proposals to divert water from Turkey to the Middle East via a pipeline or
through a series of canals and conduits running through the region. The
Committee believes these ideas could both advance the Middle East peace
process and bring new level of economic prosperity to depressed parts of
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240 B. WACHTEL AND A. LIEL
In the end, however, the Committee of Appropriations did not include the
amendment in the final bill for unknown reasons.
Sources, including the most senior Israeli negotiator to the talks suggest that
these and other efforts led to the introduction by Israel of the Peace Canal Plan
in the multilateral Syrian–Israeli peace negotiations on water in 1993.2 A year
and a half later, the Israeli Minister of Agriculture, Yaakov Zur, and the late
Water Commissioner, Gideon Zur, ordered Mekorot (Israel’s National Water
Company) to start conducting a pre-feasibility study of the project. The work
began in 1995, but Mekorot – a politically sensitive organization – stopped the
study after a series of suicide bomb attacks in Israel in February of 1996 promp-
ted Shimon Peres to halt talks with Syria. A few months later, when Likud came
to power in Israel, all work on the Plan was halted under the assumption that
this right wing political party would not withdraw from the Golan Heights.
With each new round of negotiations between Israel and Syria, and
especially during December 1999, Wachtel tried to promote the Peace Canal
Plan as an integrated water and peace plan, meeting with Turkish Ambassadors
in Israel during this time. After Turkey agreed to act as a mediator in September
of 2007, a senior Israeli politician contacted Wachtel and asked that the Plan be
translated to Hebrew for distribution to members of the Knesset’s Security and
Foreign Relations Committee. Dr. Alon Liel – former Director General of the
Israeli Foreign Ministry and the leader of track II (the unofficial and secret track
of negotiations between Israel and Syria) – then handed the plan to the relevant
negotiators and to the highest level Turkish officials.3
In 2008, Syria Comment, a website dedicated to promoting dialogue
surrounding Syrian and regional issues, posted the Peace Canal Plan.4 Reactions
posted by Syrians were mostly favorable, but some took issue with the idea of a
tank barrier on either side of the water canal on the Golan Heights. Some
argued that this is a sign of distrust, especially after a peace agreement, and that
the deep and wide water canal itself can serf as an obstacle for crossing over by
Turkish reaction to the Peace Canal Plan followed a changing trajectory.
Initially, when the Ataturk Barji Lake on the Euphrates in Turkey was proposed
as an intelligent source that could use its 500+ m elevation for gravitational
conveyance of the water to the Jordan River basin countries, the reception was
interested but somewhat cool. Turkish officials and press pointed to the already
Personal letter (1993) from Alon Pinkas at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reading: “The Peace Canal
was passed on to the Director General of the Ministry of Foreign affairs to be handed over to the Israeli
negotiators to be discussed/raised during the peace talks.”
Dr. Alon Liel handed over to the highest levels of the Turkish establishment the details of the “Peace
Canal on the Golan Heights Plan” that was written by Boaz Wachtel. (Translated from Hebrew) http://www.
Syria Comment - Blog discussion board: “The Peace Canal Plan – Peace plan/water import project from
Turkey to the Middle East”; Saturday, March 22nd, 2008 http://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=638 (Accessed 23
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THE ‘PEACE ON THE GOLAN’ PROPOSAL 241
excessive demands placed for Euphrates water by Syria and Iraq, emphasizing
that additional commitment to provide water from the Euphrates to the Middle
East countries was unacceptable. However, the initial plan had also proposed
the Ceyhan and Seyhan rivers as fallback source options. Once the Euphrates
option was dropped, Turks gradually warmed up to the plan. The Turkish
Attaché in Jerusalem wrote to Wachtel: “we are in the belief that our authorities
are interested in your project and would perhaps like to be in contact with you
directly and/or through our office in Jerusalem” (Aaya, 1994). Meetings were
held at the Turkish Foreign Ministry in Ankara in 1999, and DSI, the Turkish
National Water Authority, invited the first author and the Technical Advisor
Eng. Burton Most to tour the rivers for a briefing on local water use, future
plans, water quality etc.
In 2008, the Turkish Ambassador to Israel pointed to the ‘Infrastructure
Corridor’ or ‘Med-Stream’ as a competing proposal to the Peace Canal Plan.
According to the Israeli Ministry of Infrastructure, it called for an undersea
project, designed to deliver oil (20–50 million tons per year), natural gas (4–10
BCM/year), water (400–1,000 MCM/year), electricity (4,200 MW/year) and
communication lines across 460 km, from a hub near the Seyhan River in south
central Turkey to Haifa in Israel, at a cost of $2.5–4 billion (IMI, 2007).
The complexity of the project, partially stemming from the underwater pres-
sure on pipes lying on sea bed at 800–900 m, technically limits the quantities of
water that could be delivered to Israel and is therefore only marginally sufficient
to stabilize the regional water inventory. It will have no direct impact on the
rejuvenation of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, but could have an indirect
effect by substituting Sea of Galilee water pumped to the Israeli National
Carrier with water from Turkey through the Med Stream, to allow the release of
few hundred million cubic meters per year of water from the Sea of Galilee to
the Jordan river and the Dead Sea. In the end, the idea is not sufficient to make
the impact needed to save the drying Dead Sea or provide substantial quantities
of water to Israel’s neighbors. Free from any cross border political constraints,
the project primarily adheres to Israeli water and some Far-East country’s energy
needs and neglect to address Palestinian and Jordanian hydrological crisis.
3. Views on Turkish Water Exports, Transboundary Cooperation
in the Middle East and the Peace Canal on the Golan Heights Plan
Beyond the internal, multi-faceted impacts on societies and nature across the
Middle East, water scarcity and climate change put quite a strain on the political
and peace dynamics in the region. A former Israeli water commissioner and
prominent expert, Meir Ben-Meir, alluded to this connection in an interview in
Tel Aviv. “I cannot promise that sufficient water will prevent war,” he said,
“but poverty and scarcity of water will cause war – no doubt about that”
(Cowell, 1989). In theory, the Peace Canal Plan works to heal this scarcity in a
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242 B. WACHTEL AND A. LIEL
way that fair and beneficial for all stakeholders in the region. As Ben-Meir
suggests, however, it is not a panacea for peace. This section describes the
various points of view that have come from the parties involved in the Plan.
3.1. TURKEY’S POSITIONS
Turkey certainly possesses adequate quantities of water to export and reverse
the negative hydrological and related political dynamics caused by water
scarcity in the Middle East, and has expressed the political will to do so a
number of times. From Turkey’s perspective, however, Syria seems to be the
major obstacle in the way of doing so. During the lengthy dispute on the water
sharing of the Euphrates (until 1987) the Turkish Foreign Ministry described
Syrian positions on Turkish water export in the following way:
“Syrian officials maintain that the Peace Pipeline Project and other water selling
schemes can be interpreted as a product of Turkey’s dream of gaining a
leadership position in the Middle East. Syria further argues that the secret ideal
of Turkey is to dominate the countries of the region economically and poli-
tically by making them dependent on water. Besides, Turkey’s effort to export
water by pipeline, while not releasing a sufficient amount to its neighbors, is
itself as a contradiction”. (Turkey Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1996)
Thus, in Turkish eyes, Syria seems to be using her geographic location,
between Turkey’s water and the rest of the Middle East, as a “blocking
bargaining chip” to receive more water from Turkey. Syria understands very
well that the proposed plan for overland water export through southern Syria is
a financial and political panacea that could foster many positive dynamics both
for Turkey and the Jordan River Basin countries. Syrian officials also know that
all other technical delivery options for Turkish water exports, such as an
underwater pipe between Turkey and Israel, or delivery by boats, cannot produce
the same balanced and substantial regional impact on the water inventories of
Jordan, Israel and Palestine. Essentially, Syria is fully aware of its integral role
in the overall scheme, and the bargaining leverage it affords.
In the face of such hostile Syrian positions during the 1980s and later,
Turkey set about developing alternative water resource export schemes. The
first idea was to export water to Israel and other Mediterranean Sea countries
via water tankers. To that end, Turkey invested $150 million to build the
Manavgat water terminal to unload the water to tanker ships. At a rate of 50
million centimeters per year to Israel and a price tag of 16–18 cents/cm (Free
On Board) Manavgat, the price at final destination, i.e. Israel, was close to a
dollar (Gruen, 2007). At the time, the deal was considered far too expensive
compared to alternatives like desalination, and faced considerable opposition in
Israel. Then Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was particularly adamant in
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THE ‘PEACE ON THE GOLAN’ PROPOSAL 243
his disapproval, but his stance was more likely based on right wing ideology,
opposing the idea of Turkish water exports to Israel in any form. Furthermore,
rising and fluctuating oil price seem to make the desalination option a sub-
stantially more expensive proposition than these proposed water imports.
While it is obvious that Turkey “owns the tap”, so to speak, both on the
Euphrates flow to Syria and on any future water export project to the Middle
East, it is clear that Syria plays a crucial role in any effort to export water to the
Middle East. From the geopolitical and Israeli water security points of view, it
is reassuring that Turkey has a leverage over Syria (Euphrates flow) in order to
“help” Syria keep it’s future commitment to the safety of a Turkish water export
project to the area. In that context, Turkey’s former Foreign Minister, Hikmet
Cetin said in 1994:
“As part of the peace process, Turkey is prepared to supply water to Israel and
its Arab neighbors from sources on the Southern coast of Anatolia, such as the
Manavgat, Ceyhan and Seyhan Rivers.” He doubted that “lasting peace between
Israel and Syria, Jordan and the Palestinians could be achieved without the
addition of Turkish water supplies”. (Gruen, 2000)
The issue of Israel’s water use from the Golan Heights after a withdrawal
presents yet another water-related challenge in the negotiations. According to
recent press report quoting Dr. Alon Liel of the Syrian–Israeli Peace Society,
the Syrians see future Israeli water use from Golan sources (that now stands
at approx. 300 MCM/year), after a withdrawal and peace agreement, as
conditional upon greater allocation of water from Turkey and on international
funding for a major desalination plant on the Syrian coast of the Mediterranean
(Bendar, 2008). This marks the first time that the Syrians are directly tying the
Israeli–Syrian water agreement to greater allocation of water from Turkey. A
senior Turkish Diplomat (who wishes to remain anonymous) stated that Syria
has not yet submitted a direct request for greater water allocation, but that
Turkey will consider it once they do so (Personal verbal communication, 2008).
However, a 2008 press report suggests that Turkey will not “open” the 1987
water sharing agreement between it and Syria to supply more water in the future
to Syria from the Euphrates (AFP, 2008).
What could be inferred from the Turkish positions is that any future increase
of Turkish water supply to Syria, in the context of a Syrian–Israeli peace
agreement, could come as part of a regional water export project from Turkey to
the Middle East (and not from the Euphrates). It is safe to assume that the
amount of water Turkey would allocate to Syria would be similar to the amount
of water used by Israel after a withdrawal from the Golan Heights (i.e.
approximately 300 MCM/year). These facts support the hypothesis that the
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244 B. WACHTEL AND A. LIEL
Peace Canal on the Golan Heights project could satisfy the stated positions of
the Syrian–Israeli–Turkish triangle and should be used to cement a simultaneous
peace and water agreement between Israel, Syria and Turkey.
3.2. SYRIAN STANCE
Now may be the time for the hydrological chips fall in place. In 1994, after few
rounds of talks with Israel, Dr. Nabil Saman (a Syrian expert for Middle East
water) spoke with the London-based Arab newspaper Asharq Alawsad. He said:
“The question of water: This question is even more important than the
settlements issue and requires the involvement of regional and international
players considering the large water needs of both sides.” When asked whether
Israel would be willing to sacrifice its critical water supply from the Golan, Dr.
Saman told the reporter that “Israel’s holding of the Golan stems from water
needs and not security needs, and that its withdrawal is tied to agreements on
water sharing and quota fixing.” He expressed his belief that Israel would not
give up on this water. He said: “Israel received the principal of ‘land for peace’
and not ‘water for peace’…the Israeli efforts are based on the transfer of the
problem to areas which most of them give an advantage, through offering
suggestions like the Turkish Peace Pipeline. Israel has already suggested during
its talks with Syria the creation of a water barrier from north to south to prevent
a possible Syrian advancement” (Amid, 1994).
Here, Dr. Saman presents a Syrian interpretation of an Israeli stance and an
important historical fact. First he pointed Israel seems to see the resolution of
the Syrian–Israeli water issue [as] tied somehow to Turkish water, and maintains
that this position or linkage may be advantageous to Israel. Second, he reveals
that Israel has tossed the Peace Canal Plan onto the negotiation table before
1994. This could be inferred because the Peace Canal Plan is the only water
export project from Turkey that incorporates a north–south water barrier along
the current Syrian–Israeli border.
While some official Syrian statements expressed support for the idea of a
Turkish water export project running through Syrian territory, they came with
various conditions. Syrian Ambassador to Turkey Abd-Al-Aziz al Rifa’I
stressed that “his country is not against Turkey’s selling water to Israel, but it
prefers that Ankara play the water card in putting pressure on Israel to withdraw
from Arab territories” (FBIS, 1994). Here, Ambassador Al Rifa, creates a clear
linkage between Syria’s approval of Turkish water export plan to Israel and
the return of the Golan Heights. This position was expressed during Hafez
Al- Assad’s tenure, and continued to stand during the 2008 peace negotiations
under his son, President Bashar Al-Assad.
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THE ‘PEACE ON THE GOLAN’ PROPOSAL 245
3.3. ISRAELI POSITIONS
During the past 2 decades, Israeli officials were careful not to overstate Israel’s
desire to receive Turkish water through an over-land project via Syria, knowing
full well that Syria might take advantage of the situation to make various
demands. Nevertheless, senior officials did indeed make the connection between
peace and water. The late Israeli Prime Minister, Izhak Rabin, said: “Turkey has
abundant water. I believe in regional peace…The water in Turkey can be
transported to Syria, Lebanon and Israel via pipelines. The problem at this stage
consists of the impossibility to include Syria and Lebanon in such a reasonable
project” (BBC radio, 1994). Major General (Ret.) Uri Sagi, the official Israeli
representative to the negotiations with Syria, offered an insight on the importance
of water issues during the 1999 negotiations, saying: “The water problem is the
most important issue in the Syrian–Israeli peace negotiations. The security
arrangements issue is a much lighter problem…The [water] problem cannot be
solved independently of the Turkey, Syria and Israel triangle” (Haaretz, 1999).
The fact that Israel introduced the Peace Canal Plan during the Syrian Israeli
multilateral talks during the early 1990s is very significant for the future of the
peace negotiations between the two. The fact that the plan was introduced at
this point is substantiated from two other sources. The first is Uri Nir’s article
in Ha’aretz’ entitled “Israel will propose during the multilateral talks the
construction of a water canal as a strategic barrier in the Golan” (Nir, 1993).
The second is a US State Department document from 1992 revealing American
positions on (and possible preferences toward) Turkish water export options to
the Middle East. It lists only two land-based options to export water from
Turkey to the Jordan River Basin countries: the Mini-Peace Pipeline and the
Peace Canal Plan (US State Department, 1992). It may be that this State
Department document gave Israel the confidence in a unified American and
Israeli position to raise the Plan during the negotiations.
On May 26, 2008, the Israeli daily Maariv published an article entitled
‘Pipeline at the end of the tunnel’, which cited Dr Alon Liel, former director
general of the Foreign Ministry and chairman of the Israel–Syria Peace Move-
ment who has been involved in various peace initiatives between the states. It
claimed that he “takes an enthusiastic view of the ‘Golan Canal’,” and he was
It’s an excellent idea that could be worked into peace settlements between
Israel and Syria. Only recently, the Syrians officially told the Turks that they
are prepared to let Israel continue to use the water sources on the Golan Heights
after a withdrawal on condition that the Turks compensate them with water
supplies and assistance in setting up desalination plants. I visited Turkey a few
weeks ago, and I know from my talks with senior officials there that the subject
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246 B. WACHTEL AND A. LIEL
is on the agenda. In question would be a significant increase in Turkey’s water
supply to Syria, and a Turkish readiness to sell us a large quantity of water as
The article said that, according to Dr Liel, the Golan Canal project will
deepen Syria’s involvement in the peace process and strengthen its foundations.
“A few months ago, Boaz Wachtel presented the plan to me, and I suggested
that he should pass it on to the Syrians to look at. I know that the plan reached
Syrian hands, and that he received encouraging, unofficial responses from the
Syrian side,” he said (Bendar, 2008).
The article also cited Member of Knesset (MK) Hanegbi, the chairman of
the Foreign Relations and Security Committee, as someone who supports the
plan. He is quoted saying: “I received the document and studied it. I am not a
water expert, but it is a very interesting plan, and I think that it needs to be
looked at seriously.” According to Hanegbi, a situation needs to be created in
which peace is beneficial for both sides if the negotiations between Israel and
Syria are to succeed. “The negotiations between Israel and Syria have failed 3
times in the past. If it transpires to the Syrians and Israelis that peace can also
have economic benefits, it will reduce the chances of another failure” (Bendar,
Another voice in support for the Peace Canal Plan came from MK Roman
Bronfman a few years before, when he spoke at a NATO conference ‘Environ-
mental Security and Environmental Regulations in Israel’: He said:
The final, and in my view, the most interesting solution is that of the Peace
canal. This plan, drawn up by Mr. Boaz Wachtel, speaks of laying a 700 km
canal from the Sihan and Jihan5 rivers in Turkey to the region and thus
supplying the water needs of Syria, Israel, Jordan, Palestine as well as solving
the ever growing problem of the dropping level of the Dead Sea… It does,
however, require reaching a peace agreement between Israel and Syria.
(Bronfman, 2007: 81)
Israeli points of view regarding the Plan reflect a dilemma with regards to
water security and political sustainability – on one hand Israel is acting
unilaterally with desalination and other measures, but on the other hand, there is
support and yearning for a steady supply of large quantities of water from
Turkey if security of the flow can be assured. Senior Israeli decision makers are
increasingly aware but reluctant to express that the only way to save the Dead
Sea and the Jordan River and stabilize the Sea of Galilee is with potable water;
the only source with sufficient quantities in the area is in Turkey.
Refers to Seyhan and Ceyhan. Spelling error from pronunciation.
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THE ‘PEACE ON THE GOLAN’ PROPOSAL 247
3.4. JORDANIAN POSITIONS
Professor George Gruen from Columbia University has dedicated much of his
academic career to the analysis of water issues in the Middle East. He wrote:
“Given the projected population growth and economic development, demand
for water over the next 50 years in Israel, Jordan and Palestine will exceed
supply, because demand is expected to reach 6.5 BCM/year while quantity of
existing sources at that time is estimated to supply only 3 BCM/year. This
means a severe water deficit that requires new water supplies” (Gruen, 2005).
Another estimate by the University of Vienna, reads: “The projected supply,
demand and deficit are as follows – despite the huge investment in the water
sector, a considerable water deficit will still be facing Jordan. The water deficit
for all uses is projected at 360 MCM/year in the year 2020” (UV, 2004). As a
particularly water scarce nation in the Middle East, Jordan has an extremely
limited ability to regulate its arid level water supplies between summers and
winters and has been consistent in its support of the Turkish water export
options. In 1993, Jordan’s UN Ambassador Adnan Abu Odeh told Dr. Gruen
that “Turkish supply of water is imperative to Israel, Palestine and Jordan”
In response to a letter from Wachtel, Crown Prince of the Hashemite
Kingdom of Jordan, El Hassan Bin Talal, wrote back the following on July
Thank you for your letter dated May 28th, 1993 in which you introduced the
‘Peace Canal Plan’. The water issue is a very sensitive one, to which Jordan
attaches great importance. To arrive at amicable short and long term solutions
in this regard would, in our view, eliminate potential future disputes. Water
issues should be considered as major component of a comprehensive peace
package that would also include energy, environmental concerns and security
aspects. A balanced approach that addresses the various demographic and
economic needs is required. Innovative ideas are needed and welcome. We
very much appreciate your keen interest in water issues in our area, and look
forward to cooperating in any meaningful plan that would contribute to
solidifying a peaceful settlement built on justice and fairness. (Crown Prince of
Jordan, El Hassan Bin Talal, 1993)
On February 13, 1996, Jordan signed the Oslo Accord, agreeing to cooperate
with Israel and the Palestinian Authority on many fronts, including water.
Article 9.1 – “Declaration on Principles for Cooperation on Water-Related
Matters and New and Additional Water Resources” – stipulates that the parties
will study in order to determine their feasibility on “acquisition and import of
water including the possibility of carrying such waters through existing or new
supply systems.” As a result of increased water stress on Jordan, King Abdullah
visited Ankara during 2000 to discuss the various water import options from
Turkey to the Middle East (Gruen, 2005). Jordan’s support for water imports
from Turkey has not diminished even slightly since. The severity of water
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248 B. WACHTEL AND A. LIEL
scarcity in Jordan is such that it has no choice but to harness every available
capacity. Professor Salameh of the University of Jordan explained: “We have to
develop every drop…We can’t look at just one aspect or one resource, every
option deserves consideration” (de Chatel, 2007: 169). These facts point to a
Jordanian commitment to work with its neighbors towards a regional solution to
water scarcity, and specifically through water imports, most probably from
3.5. PALESTINIAN POSITIONS
One of the most contentious issues in the Palestinian–Israeli peace negotiations
is that of water allocation. The Palestinians demand a greater share of water
from the aquifers under the West Bank, from which Israel currently pumps a
substantial supply inside the Green-Line (pre-1967 borders). At the same time,
Israel restricts Palestinian access to water under the occupied West Bank which
has caused a severe water shortage among Palestinian farmers and city dwellers.
Additional water from Turkey could help redistribute the trans-boundary water
and provide more water to meet Palestinian demands, facilitating an easier
compromise on the water sharing issue during the almost endless negotiations.
In theory, additional water from any source could alleviate the security-driven
competition for existing fresh water resources.
The Israel/Palestine Center for Research and information (IPCRI), an
extremely influential Israeli–Palestinian bilateral cooperation organization,
wrote the following in its landmark publication the ‘Trilateral Confederation,
A New Political Vision for Peace – The Just Way to Peaceful Co-Existence on
Both Sides of the Jordan River’:
Another design that has captured much interest, proposed by the Israeli Boaz
Wachtel, suggests building a waterway from Turkey to the Dead Sea, through
Damascus and the Golan Heights. Such a waterway would provide an ample
supply of water to Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Syria, and run through the
Golan Heights, providing a buffer in case of a sudden Syrian tank attack against
Israel. A comprehensive peace settlement with Syria and Lebanon would be
necessary to implement such a proposal. As negotiations progress, we will be
able to focus more attention on this proposal. (Hess, 1999)
In a recent statement sent to the authors by the Palestinian Negotiation
Affairs Department, an updated position6 based on Palestinian interest and
experience was forwarded:
The Palestinian Negotiations Affairs Department’s position reflecting Palestinian
interest in achieving a viable state is that the Palestinian’s must secure its
rightful share of all trans-boundary waters in accordance with customary inter-
national water law prior to or concomitant with any projects increasing the
The following comment is not for personal attribution as it reflects a Palestinian position.
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THE ‘PEACE ON THE GOLAN’ PROPOSAL 249
overall supply among the Jordan River Basin riparian (Israel, Jordan, Lebanon,
Palestine and Syria). Although the Palestinian side recognizes the importance
of studying and developing new water proposals, there is a concern based on
years of experience that Israel is likely to politically exploit any project which
extends Israel’s control over water supply to the Palestinians (i.e. Palestinian
access to water sources and its ability to manage those water sources). The
Palestinians recognize the opportunity in the Turkish water export idea for
the region, but have witnessed numerous “cooperative” ventures where the
Palestinians have received little or no benefit because of the impact of the
occupation to diminish or expropriate any benefits. Nevertheless, the Peace
Canal proposal deserves further consideration among other new water supply
ideas to encourage the respective constituencies of the Jordan River Basin
riparians that new supply creates the opportunity to reallocate existing trans-
boundary freshwater in an equitable and reasonable manner by increasing the
Much like Jordan, the severity of the water crisis in the occupied territories
is such that Palestinians support the serious examination of realistic options to
boost water supplies. Nevertheless, past events seem to have taught them to be
4. Risks and Benefits of the Peace Canal Regional Water Project
The number one issue raised by the opposition to water exports from Turkey to
the Jordan River basin countries is that of dependency. The idea, opponents say,
that Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians will be reliant on Turkish water passing
through Syria is a risky proposition, enough to reject the project altogether. The
reality, however, is far more complicated than this simplistic, isolationistic,
In fact, in the Middle East, as in some other places in the world, controlling
territory does not necessarily mean controlling ones water resources. Most of
Syria’s water originates in Turkey. A third of Israel’s water comes from the
Golan, and another large portion from under the West Bank. Jordan is down-
stream from Syria along the Yarmouk River, which contributes a substantial
amount to its national water supply. Clearly, water sharing across borders and
entrenched interdependency is an existing fact. One could argue that changing
the status quo unilaterally is, by itself, a cause for a new war. That said, it can
be assumed that same logic could be applied to the Peace Canal on the Golan
Furthermore, no one side is expected to give up a drop of water as a
condition to join the project. The added quantities are only boosting existing
Statement by Palestinian Negotiations Affairs Department sent to author (Wachtel) on December 25th,
2008 via email.
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250 B. WACHTEL AND A. LIEL
inventories of each side. If Syria chooses to block the flow after an agreement is
signed, it would be in clear contrast to its self interests, and the following could
occur based on pre-determined contract:
• Syria would be cut off from its share from the Peace Canal Project.
• Turkey would be able to penalize Syria by reducing flow in the Euphrates.
• A possible casus belli with Israel (identical to an event disrupting the natural
flow from the Golan after an Israeli withdrawal).
• The Arab League might impose sanctions in response to an act that hurts
Arab brothers in Jordan and Palestine.
The agreement between the five countries involved in the Peace Canal Plan
should clearly stipulate the automatic threat of international sanctions for those
parties that infringe on the flow of water. Such international guarantees by the
UN and G8 are crucial in keeping the parties’ confidence level high while
signing an agreement, especially as part of an Israeli–Syrian peace agreement.
The same is true for Israeli–Palestinian agreement, also dependent on redistribution
of water under the West Bank. Added water from Turkey that expands both the
regional water pie and shares to each of the four recipients will boost the
chances of reaching stable and lasting water and political agreements.
The key benefits of the Peace Canal Plan include:
• The facilitation of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria through a
safe Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights and the resolution of the
territorial and water disputes.
• Clear economic viability considering the self-sufficient energy production,
as well as the economic benefits of peace. Energy produced is used to
transfer the potable water from Turkey and for pumping from the Central
Golan Heights at (+) 500 to Jordanian cities. (This advantage is in contrast
to Red–Dead Canal that requires lifting of desalinated water from [−] 400 to
[+] 1,000 m to Jordanian cities).
• Political balance and fairness due to an even distribution of benefits between
the four recipients.
• A win–win conflict resolution formula for peace and water accords between
Israel, Syria and Palestine.
• An environmentally safe potable water solution for the stabilization of the
Sea of Galilee, revitalization of the Jordan River and reversal of the rapid
decline of the Dead Sea (without altering the mineral composition of the
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THE ‘PEACE ON THE GOLAN’ PROPOSAL 251
• Enhance and stabilize recipients’ water inventories in a time of scarcity.
• Helps Turkey earn hard currency for the sale of water and supports its
• Access to additional water could help increase the standard of living of the
agrarian sectors in Arab countries; reduce poverty and hopefully, the
religious radicalization of the poor.
• International guarantees, even distribution of benefits and fulfillment of
major hydrological, economic and political interests of each side helps
secure the flow of water for years to come.
• The new water is in addition to existing water inventories and does not
require giving up a single drop of water from each of the participants.
The following is the basic criteria for successful regional water projects in
the Middle East that address the regional water problem:
• Reduces resource and political conflicts in the region.
• Stresses equitable and balanced sharing of water and benefits.
• Is affordable, profitable and durable.
• Has no significant redirected negative impact, especially environmental
• Has a significant positive impact on the Sea of Galilee, Jordan River and
Dead Sea problems and on the water inventories of the four countries.
• Passes various feasibility tests: Environmental, Economic, Political, Technical
If integrated in an Israeli-Syrian peace accord, the Peace Canal on the Golan
Heights Plan could fulfill these criteria, including the political criteria. The Plan
could make a substantial contribution to the hydrological and political stability
of this tumultuous region, ensuring a peaceful and prosperous existence of
The positions of the relevant parties with regard to the Peace Canal Plan seem
positive as it fits major stated interests. The parties understand the risk involved
with such water import project from Turkey through Syria, but think that the
accumulative and multi-faceted benefits outweigh the possible risks. This is
especially true when considering that no party is expected to give up a single
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252 B. WACHTEL AND A. LIEL
drop of water in return for their agreement to participate in the project. The
Peace Canal Plan is not a zero sum proposition but rather a win–win option for
all involved. That said, the authors feel that the future of this Plan is bright.
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