EcoPeace Middle East is an organization that seeks to create lasting peace though environmental cooperation and protection of shared natural resources. The Jordanian project coordinator, Mohammad Bundokji, explains the innovative approach to peacebuilding that consists in generating positive mutual dependencies for water and energy.
It is very rare for there to be universal agreement on any issue, but there is very little disagreement that of the many conflicts occurring across the world today, the Arab-Israeli conflict is the most complex. It has all the divisive elements of ethnicity, religion, borders and natural resources. It is in this context that the non-governmental organization EcoPeace Middle East operates.
EcoPeace Middle East may be seen as an "antidote" to everything that causes conflicts in the Middle East. When it comes to ethnicity and religion, its very structure serves as an example of how people can set aside their differences and work together: the organization runs three offices in Amman, Tel Aviv and Bethlehem. The offices are managed equally by three directors from the three countries, with none having the upper hand. When it comes to borders, EcoPeace's regional projects are based on the fact that the environment knows no borders. Last but not least, when it comes to natural resources, the innovative solutions advanced by EcoPeace aim to turn these from a cause of conflict to a cause for cooperation.
The "Water-Energy Nexus" project is the most relevant example. It is well known that most of the conflicts in the Middle East are either directly or indirectly related to water and energy. Jordan is currently ranked as the fourth most water-stressed country worldwide. 95 percent of its energy is imported, but it has the potential of becoming an energy hub for the whole region through investment in solar energy. Israeli leadership in advancing desalination technologies has helped the country to mitigate the effects of climate change on its water sector, and yet the Israeli government is planning to export more of the newly discovered Israeli gas instead of using it for desalination. The Palestinian territories are in urgent need of energy and water, especially Gaza, which will be uninhabitable by 2020 according to a recent UN report.
Taking all of the above into consideration, the Water-Energy Nexus project aims at creating a state of interdependence between the three countries. A combination of solar and wind energy will be harvested mainly in Jordan and to a lesser extent in the West Bank. The energy will then be transferred to desalination plants along the Mediterranean, including Gaza. The desalinated water will finally be transferred back to Jordan and the West Bank, creating a win-win situation and eliminating any possibility of political blackmail. For instance, if Israel decided to use the desalinated water as a political tool, the other two parties could easily respond by regulating the energy needed for desalination. The project thereby fosters transboundary cooperation and simultaneously helps the three countries to meet their targets set by the Paris Agreement.
The project is still at the pre-feasibility stage. The only potential risk appears to be political opposition. For example, the Palestinian “anti-normalization movement” opposes any cooperation with Israel, which might affect political buy-in from decision-makers and private sector interest in the project.
The project is funded by and implemented in partnership with the German Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, which is utilizing its expertise to promote the project and take it to the next stage. The scientists undertaking the research are from the University of Haifa, a widely respected institute for water and energy research. The professionalism and goodwill associated with this project are indeed a cause of optimism.
Mohammad Bundokji is the Jordanian Project Coordinator of the Water-Energy Nexus Project, EcoPeace Middle East