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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
Hope for peace seen in water experts working togetherJewish Review
October 15, 2005
By Paul Haist
Running beneath the well-publicized land issues is another current outwardly as vexing, but that also has created opportunities for Israelis and Palestinians and others to work together on a common issue: water.
Dr. Jeff Albert of San Francisco is a former analyst for the Israel Water Commission in Tel Aviv who has participated in several Israeli Palestinian and Israeli-Jordanian projects relating to the region's water supply.
Albert was in Portland in late September as the guest of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, a national group with a chapter in Portland. Albert spoke at two venues before visiting the Jewish Review.
"Water is an important issue and ought to be considered on a par with other issues," said Albert.
Water is important because its supply in the region is limited while water demand is growing at a rate on track to outstrip the natural resource, he explained.
"The consensus among the scientific community is that we are at least pushing up against (the limits) of conventional water availability," said Albert.
"You can't use more than 100 percent of a river," he said, "but you can use more than 100 percent of an aquifer," by drawing it down annually more than natural conditions will refill it.
He said that is already happening, while suggesting that water distribution in the region is currently less than fair.
He noted that political control of the water resource is largely in Israel's hands. Jordan also has some control, with the Palestinian Authority having the smallest say over water resource allocation.
At present, Israel is in the business of selling water to the Palestinian Authority, according to Albert.
Albert expressed skepticism over the ability of political leaders to make the best decisions about water allocation. Instead, he believes that water resource professionals might provide superior leadership in this area, as well as new hope for better times.
"I believe in the power of technological cooperation among professionals," he said. "But they can be stymied by the intransigence of those at the top levels of political control."
He believes in the ability of professionals on both sides of the issue to transcend political differences.
He noted that the Oslo 2 accords established joint water committees comprising Israelis and Palestinians and that they continued to function amid all the political strife and violence.
"After the outbreak of the second intifada, the (joint) committee issued a communiqué stressing the need for joint water management above the conflict," said Albert. "The committee continued its work despite the conflict."
Speaking as a hydrology specialist, he said, "Joint management is something many of us subscribe to."
In fact, Albert sees the water issue as a possible doorway to broader-based understanding and cooperation, with professionals on both sides of the political divide publishing research together.
"There is a belief among many of them that this can be the vanguard of reconciliation," said Albert.