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C Historical review of the political riparian issues in the development of the Jordan River and basin management


The political riparian issues in development of the Jordan River and basin management between 1948 and 1967 are described in this appendix. Basic information for understanding the riparian-rights problems in the inter-state basin development of the Jordan River system are provided, with respect to UNRWA's pioneering work on the Main Plan and the Johnston Plan in 19511955 (table C.1). The source of this information is the book Water in the Middle East from the Middle East Research Institute, University of Pennsylvania (Naff and Matson 1984). The research was unclassified and derived from totally open sources of information. Some recommendations for the future planning of joint development and management are described in Appendix D to conclude the study on the joint development and management of the Jordan River system.

C.1 Unilateral planning and action after the first Israel-Arab war

The 1948 Arab-Israeli war aggravated already-existing difficulties of cooperative water management. The fragile armistice agreements signed by the Arab states and Israel in 1949 did not deal with water, nor was the postwar atmosphere conducive to negotiation. In consequence, each of the riparians moved to utilize the Jordan River system unilaterally.

Table C.1 Development schemes for the River system

Plan Agency/Organization/Sponsor
1913 Franhia Plan Ottoman Empire
1922 Mavromatis Plan Great Britain
1928 Henriques Report Great Britain
1935 Palestine Land Development Company World Zionist Organization
1939 Ionides Survey Transjordan
1944 Lowdermilk Plan USA
1946 Survey of Palestine Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry
1948 Hays-Savage Plan World Zionist Organization
1950 MacDonald Report Jordan
1951 All Israel Plan Israel
1952 Bunger Plan Jordan/USA
1953 Main Plan UNRWA/United Nations
1953 Israeli Seven-Year Plan Israel
1954 Cotton Plan Israel
1954 Arab Plan Arab League Technical Committee
1955 Baker-Harza Plan Jordan
1955 Unified (Johnston) Plan USA
1956 Israeli Ten-Year Plan Israel
1956 Israeli National Water Plan Israel
1957 Great Yarmouk Project Jordan
1964 Jordan Headwaters Diversion Arab League
1991 Integrated Joint Development Plan Japan (University of Tokyo)
1993 Declaration of Principles: PLO/Israel Israel and PLO (Annex III, IV)
1994 Treaty of Peace: Jordan/Israel Jordan and Israel (Article 6, Annex II)

Sources: Naff and Matson 1984, and Murakami 1991.

Israel resumed water planning immediately after 1948. The comprehensive All Israel Plan, completed in 1951, included the draining of the Huleh swamp, the diversion of the Jordan River, and the construction of a carrier system. Subsequently consolidated into the National Water Carrier (hereafter called the "Carrier"), this plan was to became the keystone of Israel's water development, diverting waters of the Jordan to the coastal plains and the Negev desert.

The first part of the project, the draining of the Huleh swamps, began in 1951. Israel delayed construction of the first leg of the Carrier for foreign-policy reasons. Work on the Huleh swamp, which infringed the demilitarized zone with Syria, provoked a number of military inci dents, which were the first of many clashes between Israel and Syria and between Israeli and Arab residents in disputed territories and demilitarized zones (table C.2). Some incidents were designed to harass and remove unwanted population elements or protect personal property; others were intended to interfere with the development of water resources in ways that the contesting party viewed as inimical to its interests. In some cases, over a period of some two decades, water related actions were used as a mask for other conflicts (e.g., shooting on Lake Tiberias in 1954-55 was escalated to incursions that took hostages to exchange for prisoners of war held by the other side). Throughout the period, incidents threatened to shatter the armistice agreements. Some analysts have held that water was a major factor leading to the 1967 war.

Jisr Banat Yaqub (Hebrew: Gesher Bnot Yaacov), the targeted diversion point for the large-scale Israeli project, was located in the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria. Israel was apprehensive that this fact would provoke Arab opposition and international condemnation. It delayed the decision to proceed with the larger diversion scheme until July 1953.

By the early 1950s, both the Jordanian government and UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) were working on irrigation schemes to improve Jordanian agriculture and resettle the Palestinian refugees. In 1950 Jordan received a commissioned study from the British consultant Sir Murdoch MacDonald which proposed diverting the Yarmouk River into Lake Tiberias and constructing irrigation canals down both sides of the Jordan valley. A 1952 plan for UNRWA by American engineer M. E. Bunger envisaged a dam on the Yarmouk River at Maqarin with a storage capacity of 480 million m. The impounded water would be diverted by a second dam at Addassiyah into gravity-flow canals along the east Ghor in Jordan. Bunger reckoned the work would irrigate 435,000 dunums (43,500 ha) in Jordan and 60,000 dunums (6,000 ha) in Syria. Hydroelectric plants at the two dams would generate 28,300 kWh per year for Jordan and Syria. Experts estimated that the Bunger Plan would settle 100,000 people.

In March 1953 Jordan and UNRWA signed an agreement to implement the Bunger Plan. In June 1953 Jordan and Syria agreed on sharing the Yarmouk water. Actual work on the project began in July 1953. However, even before it began, Israel protested that its riparian rights to the Yarmouk were not recognized in the Bunger Plan. The Yarmouk Triangle demilitarized zone controlled by Israel had only 10 km of frontage on the Yarmouk.

Table C.2 Water-related cease-fire notations in the Jordan system, 1951-1967

Date Incident Immediate issue Underlying issue Resolution
Spring 1951 Shooting in DMZ; both sides invade; Israel expels Arab villagers from DMZ; Israeli air force bombs Al-Himah Arab resistance to Israeli land seizure, expulsion from DMZ Huleh drainage in DMZ Security Council orders return of Arab villagers, but villages had been razed
3 Sept. 1953 Shooting in DMZ Water diversion by Israel in DMZ Sovereignty over DMZ UN orders work halted; USA threatens to end aid: Israel moves intake out of DMZ
12 Dec. 1955 Israelis hit Arab villages north-east of Lake Tiberias, killing 50 (followed by two days' fire fight on lake) Fishing rights Israeli saboteurs captured (1954) inside Syria Security Council condemns Israel; Syria rejects Johnston Plan; prisoners returned two months later
31 Jan. 1962 Israel destroys Lower Tarafiq in DMZ Israeli drainage ditch in Arab village Use of land Syria complains to MAC; Israel boycotts
13 Nov. 1964 Patrols exchange fire; Bombing of Tell el-Qadi (source of Dan River) Road building by Israel in disputed territory Sovereignty over source of Dan River Both parties complain to Secur ity Council; Soviets veto
1 Jan. 1965 Fatah hits pump station (first in series of attacks on Israel) Israeli existence Palestine self-determination None
Spring 1965 Patrols fire along Israel-Syria border Road building by Syria in Golan Heights Arab water diversion None
14 July 1966 Israeli air force bombs Syrian construction vehicles; air battle at Banias Alleged Syrian provocation Arab water diversion Security Council
15 Aug. 1966 Exchange of fire on Lake Tiberias Patrolling, fishing Land use in DMZ Syrian note to Security Council
2 Apr. 1967 Fire fight in DMZ Arab water diversion Arab water diversion None
7 Apr. 1967 Israeli air force bombs Golan, seen over Damascus Arab water diversion Arab water diversion MAC reconvened; no action

Source: Naff and Matson 1984.

In July 1953 Israel began the diversion of the Jordan at Jisr Banat Yaqub. This site was in the demilitarized zone but had two technical advantages over lower alternative sites: (1) it had a lower salinity level than points farther down the Jordan River fork, and (2) the 270 m drop in elevation between the site and Lake Tiberias was sufficient to enable the use of gravity as the means of diversion. The Israeli government underestimated both Syrian and international reaction. In September 1953 the Syrians protested to the United Nations. Unlike the Huleh drainage case, which the UN had allowed to proceed, the UN ruled in favour of Syria. Israel ignored the order to discontinue work. Only an American threat in November 1953 to cut off funds channelled to Israel by the Foreign Operations Administration convinced Israel to terminate construction. Subsequently, a point at Eshed Kinrot on Lake Tiberias was chosen. It was technically inferior to the original site: the water salinity was high and hydroelectric power had to be used to pump the water to the Carrier.

Meanwhile, Jordan had to abandon the Bunger Plan entirely. One factor was Israel's objection on the ground that the original Rutenberg concession gave Israel rights to the Yarmouk. Another factor was a change in American perceptions. King Hussein, in his autobiography, alleges that the United States accepted the Israeli legal position and hence denied funding to the Bunger Plan (Naff and Matson 1984).

C.2 The Johnston negotiations

The US government then moved towards deeper involvement. On 16 October 1953 President Eisenhower appointed Eric Johnston as a special ambassador to mediate a comprehensive plan for the regional development of the Jordan River system. Philosophically based on the Marshall Plan in Europe, it sought to reduce the conflict potential of the region by promoting cooperation and economic stability.

The large number of plans issued between 1953 and 1955 represented bargaining stages in the negotiations over the sharing of the Jordan River system (table C.1). The main bargaining issues pertained to (1) the water quotas for the riparians, (2) the use of Lake Tiberias as a storage facility, (3) the use of Jordan waters for out-of-basin areas, (4) the used of the Litani River as part of the system, and (5) the nature of international supervision and guarantees.

The base plan for Johnston's mission was an UNRWA-sponsored desk study prepared by Charles T. Main, under the supervision of the US Tennessee Valley Authority, with the backing of the American State Department. The plan featured:

The Main Plan favoured primary in-basin use of the Jordan waters and ruled out integration of the Litani. Provisional quotas gave Israel 394 million m, Jordan 774 million m, and Syria 45 million m.

Israel opened the bargaining by publishing a seven-year plan. Its main features, modelled on the Lowdermilk and Hayes plans (table C.1), included the integration of the Litani, the use of Lake Tiberias as the main storage facility, out-of-basin use of the Jordan waters, and the Mediterranean-Dead Sea canal. Since water flow was based on the combined Jordan-Litani output of 2,500 million m, Israel sought an initial quota of 810 million m.

The Israeli proposals were elaborated in the plan prepared for it by Josep Cotton in 1954. The combined annual Litani-Jordan water resources were estimated at 2,345.7 million m. Israel was to receive 1,290 million m per year. The Arab share of 1,055.7 million m per year was to be divided by allocating 575 million m to Jordan, 450.7 million m to Lebanon, and 30 million m to Syria.

The Arabs responded to the Main "base plan" with the Arab Plan of 1954, which reaffirmed the Ionides, MacDonald, and Bunger principle of exclusive in-basin use of the water, rejected storage in Lake Tiberias, and rejected integration of the Litani. Because 77% of the water of the Jordan water system originated in the Arab countries, it objected to the quota allocations proposed in the Main Plan. According to the Arab proposal, Israel was to get 200 million m per year, Jordan 861 million m, and Syria 132 million m. The Arab plan recognized Lebanon as a riparian of the Jordan River system and allocated it 35 million m per year.

The Baker-Harza study, published in 1955, was prepared by American engineers commissioned by the Jordanian government to conduct a hydrological survey to determine the amount of water needed to irrigate the Jordan valley. The plan was technically oriented and not directly related to the negotiations. It recommended construction of an elaborate canal system to irrigate 460,000 dunums (46,000 ha) in the Jordan valley. It increased the estimate of cultivable land but decreased the water duty (the amount of water required per unit of land to produce crops).

C.3 Towards the Unified Plan

As negotiations progressed, disagreements were gradually reduced. Israel gave up on integration of the Litani, and the Arabs dropped their objection to out-of-basin use of waters. Lake Tiberias was rejected by the Arabs as a reservoir for Yarrnouk water. An alternative Arab proposal to treat Lake Tiberias (without diversion of the Yarmouk) as a regional storage centre to benefit all riparians was rejected by Israel. The Arabs demanded and Israel opposed international supervision over withdrawals of water.

Allocation of water quotas was the most difficult issue. As illustrated in table C.3, the disparity between the opening demands was considerable. After the claim for the Litani was dropped, Israel downgraded its quota demand to 550 million m per year. After extremely hard bargaining the so-called Gardiner Formula was adopted as the final version of the Unified (Johnston) Plan. Compared to the Main Plan figures, the Johnston Plan quotas are significantly different only with regard to Syria and Lebanon. Jordan's share was slightly scaled down, and Israel was to receive the variable residue after other quotas had been met; most estimates place this average residue at 400 million m per year.

The Unified Plan stipulated that supervision would be exercised by a three-member Neutral Engineering Board. The Board's mandate included the supervision of water withdrawal, record keeping, and preserving the spirit and letter of the agreement.

The Unified Plan was accepted by the technical committees from both Israel and the Arab League. The Israeli cabinet discussed the plan in July 1955 without taking a vote. The Arab Experts Committee approved the plan in September 1955 and referred it for final approval to the Arab League Council. The Council decided on 11 October 1955 not to ratify the plan. According to most observers, including Johnston himself, the Arab non-adoption of the plan was not total rejection; while they failed to approve it politically, they were determined to adhere to the technical details. The issue of impartial monitoring was not resolved, which made for problems in the future.

Table C.3 Water allocations to riparians of the Jordan system Million m per year)

Plan/water source Lebanon Syria Jordan Israel Total
Main Plan   45 774 394 1,213
Arab Plan 35 132 698 182 1,047
Cotton Plana 450.7 30 575 1,290 2,345.7
Unified (Johnston) Plan Hasbani 35       35
Banias   20     20
Jordan (main stream)   22 100 375b 497b
Yannouk   90 377 25 492
Side wadis     243   243
TOTAL 35 132 720 400b 1,287b

Source: Naff and Matson 1984. a. Includes the Litani. b. According to the compromise Gardiner formula, the share to Israel from the main stream of the Jordan was defined as the "residue" after the other co-riparians had received their shares. This would vary from year to year but was expected to average 375 million m.

C.4 Unilateral implementation: 1955-1967

The failure to develop a multilateral approach to water management reinforced unilateral development. Though the Unified Plan failed to be ratified, both Jordan and Israel undertook to operate within their allocations, and two major successful projects were undertaken: the Israeli National Water Carrier and Jordan's East Ghor Main Canal.

The National Water Carrier diverted water from the Jordan River fork at Eshed Kinrot to the coastal plain and the Negev desert. Although sections of it were begun before 1955, it was only completed in 1964. The initial diversion capacity of the National Water Carrier without supplementary booster pumps was 320 million m, well within the limits of the Johnston Plan.

Design of the East Ghor Canal was begun by Jordan in 1957. It was intended as the first section of a much more ambitious plan known as the Greater Yarmouk project. Additional sections included (1) construction of two dams on the Yarmouk (Mukheiba and Maqarin) for storage and hydroelectricity, (2) construction of a 47-km West Ghor Canal, together with a siphon across the Jordan River near Wadi Faria to connect it with the East Ghor Canal, (3) construction of seven dams to utilize seasonal flow on side wadis flowing into the Jordan, and (4) construction of pumping stations, lateral canals, and flood protection and drainage facilities. In the original Greater Yarmouk project, the East Ghor Canal was scheduled to provide only 25% of the total irrigation scheme. Construction of the canal began in 1959. By 1961 its first section was completed; sections two and three, down to Wadi Zarqa, were in service by June 1966.

Shortly before completion of the Israeli Water Carrier in 1964, an Arab summit conference decided to try to thwart it. Discarding direct military attack, the Arab states chose to divert the Jordan headwaters. Two options were considered: either the diversion of the Hasbani to the Litani and the diversion of the Banias to the Yarmouk, or the diversion of both the Hasbani and the Banias to the Yarmouk. The latter was chosen, with the diverted waters to be stored behind the Mukheiba dam.

According to neutral assessments, the scheme was only marginally feasible; it was technically difficult and expensive. Its estimated cost was between US$190 million and US$200 million, comparable to the cost of the entire Israeli National Water Carrier. Financial issues were to be solved by contributions from Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Political considerations cited by the Arabs in rejecting the 1955 Johnston Plan were revived to justify the diversion scheme. Particular emphasis was placed on the Carrier's capability to enhance Israel's capacity to absorb immigrants to the detriment of Palestinian refugees. In response, Israel stressed that the National Water Carrier was within the limits of the Johnston Plan. It declared that, as a sovereign state, it had the right to set immigration policies without external interference, and refused to make concessions regarding Arab refugees.

The Arabs started work on the Headwater Diversion project in 1965. Israel declared that it would regard such diversion as an infringement of its sovereign rights. According to estimates, completion of the project would have deprived Israel of 35% of its contemplated withdrawal from the upper Jordan, constituting one-ninth of Israel's annual water budget.

In a series of military strikes, Israel hit the diversion works. The attacks culminated in April 1967 in air strikes deep inside Syria. The increase in water-related Arab-Israeli hostility was a major factor leading to the June 1967 war.

C.5 The militarization of the water conflict

The 1967 war increased the trend towards competitive unilateral utilization of the Jordan River system.

Israel improved its hydrostrategic position through the occupation of the Golan Heights and the West Bank. The occupation of the Golan Heights made it impossible for the Arab states to divert the Jordan headwaters. The 1967 cease-fire lines gave Israel control of half the length of the Yarmouk River, compared to 10 km before the war. This made development of the Yarmouk contingent upon Israeli consent. Even small-scale unilateral impoundment by Jordan can easily be detected by Israel and attacked militarily.

The ability of Arab riparians to proceed with unilateral schemes decreased in proportion to Israeli gains. When the war started, about 20% of the Greater Yarmouk project was completed. In the wake of the war, the two most important projects, the Mukheiba and Maqarin (renamed Al-Wuheda in 1987) dams had to be abandoned. The Mukheiba dam had been planned to store 200 million m of water and the Maqarin dam to store up to 350 million m and to generate 25,000 kWh of electricity annually.

When the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) emerged under new leadership after the 1967 war, it mounted an intensive campaign against Israeli settlements in the Jordan valley. These attacks included raids against water installations, such as that on the Nafaraim pumping station in the summer of 1969. Israeli-PLO skirmishes soon deteriorated into Israeli conflict with Jordanian and Iraqi detachments stationed in the east Jordan valley.

After unsuccessful military efforts to stop PLO activities, Israel raided the East Ghor Canal in 1969 and put most of the system out of commission. Israel appears to have conjectured that extensive damage to the irrigation system would pressure King Hussein to act against the PLO. Conflict over the East Ghor Canal was mediated by the United States. After secret negotiations in 1969-1970, Jordan was allowed to repair the canal; in exchange Jordan reaffirmed its adherence to the Johnston Plan quotas and pledged to terminate PLO activity in Jordan. King Hussein expelled the PLO from Jordan in 19701971.


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