Water Conflict and Cooperation/Jordan River Basin Part II

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This article is based on Jordan Case Study, by Munther J. Haddadin and Uri Shamir, as part of a UNESCO-IHP, PCCP Series Publication (2003).


Focus Areas

Geographic Scope




Background and Significance

The Experience: Challenges and Solutions

Results and Impact

Lessons for Replication

Testimonies and Stakeholder Perceptions

The Negotiations and The Water Agreement Between The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and The State of Israel

Israel and Jordan signed a Treaty of Peace on October 26, 1994. Article 6 and Annex II of the treaty (included in appendix of original publication) constitute an agreement on water.

This article opens with some background on the arrangements made by the parties for sharing of water in the Yarmouk River since the early 1980s, details and explains the process of negotiations that ensued in the 1990s, analyzes the water agreement signed in 1994, and concludes with a series of observations on its salient points.

The negotiation process is analyzed according to a set of dimensions:

  • the use of two arenas – bilateral and multilateral – and their intended and actual roles
  • the venues and environment in which the negotiations took place
  • working with a single negotiated text (SNT)
  • how issues relating to the other regional party (the Palestinians) were considered
  • confidence building measures (CBMs)
  • how the agreement covers many topics, and why this is important
  • the fact that water rights are not mentioned in the agreement, and “rightful allocations” are used instead
  • why Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) is not mentioned in the agreement .

The main aspects of the water agreement are presented and discussed:

  • its permanent nature, captured in the opening statement: “With the view to achieving a comprehensive and lasting settlement of all the water problems between them . . .”
  • the permanent Joint Water Committee (JWC) that is set up to deal with implementation and any items relating to water that may arise with time
  • cooperation as a principle to be followed; definition of the quantities, timing, qualities, and costing of the components of the “rightful allocations” of each side
  • priority given to existing uses
  • “increasing the pie” by jointly developing new sources of water to overcome the shortages that both parties are facing
  • dealing with hydrologic variability in the sources
  • the need to increase storage
  • issues of water quality.

The article concludes with some reflections on the water agreement and its implementation.

Jordan River, Dead Sea, and Wadi Arava catchment area
Jordan River, Dead Sea, and Wadi Arava catchment area


Part 1 of this case study provided the background on the Jordan River and the various proposals made during the first six decades of the twentieth century for dividing its waters. Until the 1980s there were no significant new proposals.

In the 1980s, a discreet agreement was reached between Jordan and Israel, to make arrangements on the Yarmouk River for sharing its waters.[1] This was accomplished, after ad hoc agreement on the timing and quantities, by adjusting a sand bar on the riverbed, and later by placing sand bags across the Yarmouk riverbed just below the diversion point from the river into Jordan’s King Abdallah Canal (KAC, formerly the East Ghor Canal), to raise the water level and increase the diversion flow. These arrangements were obviously made with the blessing of the leaders on both sides, but they did not constitute a formal agreement. Experts from the two sides, accompanied by officers of the respective armies and by an officer of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization, met at the diversion point (Adassiya/Point 121), for what are sometimes called the “Picnic Table Meetings” (Haddadin, 2002, pp. 258ff), and were designed to respond to requests by either side to adjust the flow to either country, especially in the dry months, and help alleviate the water shortage and human suffering in Jordan. Physical modifications of the riverbed at the diversion point and the use of the sand bags are described by Haddadin (2002, Chapter 7). The meetings on the Yarmouk River served to create working relations and mutual respect between the water experts of the two sides, and to form some of the basis for the formal negotiations that ensued in the 1990s.[2]

The remainder of this chapter is devoted to the negotiations between the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the State of Israel over water, starting with the Madrid Conference in 1991 and ending with the Peace Treaty between the two countries on October 26, 1994 in the Araba/Arava Valley just north of the cities of Aqaba and Eilat. The text of the water agreement is reproduced in the Appendix of the original publication and can also be found on Professor Aaron Wolf’s data base of international water treaties.


The material is organized by topic, not according to the chronological sequence of events. The objective is to provide a perspective on the various aspects of the negotiations, and how they ended in an agreement, in a manner that provides general and generic lessons from this case study for others. The historical sequence of the negotiations, while interesting in itself, is specific to the states, historical setting, cultures, and persons in this case, and therefore less valuable to the reader. Besides, the book by Haddadin (2002) provides an ample chronology of the events. The organization of the material is also designed to suit the questionnaire that is used by all case studies in this publication, a questionnaire developed by the PCCP group to provide a means for deriving general lessons from the various case studies covered.

The Negotiations

Reference to parts in Article 6 will be: (6(1)) for point 1 in Article 6, etc. Reference to parts in Annex II will be stated (II(I)(1)(a)) for point a. in part 1. of Article I of Annex II, etc.

Article 6 of the treaty is titled “Water,” and lays down the foundation upon which the details are elaborated in Annex II “Water Related Matters.” These are included in the Appendix.

The opening statement of Article 6 is: “With the view to achieving a comprehensive and lasting settlement of all the water problems between them: . . .” – which stresses that this is a final agreement. Even so, the parties established a mechanism, to be described below, for dealing jointly not only with implementation of what had been agreed but also with additional matters that might arise over time.</ref>==

The Joint Water Committee

The Joint Water Committee was therefore formed (II (VII)) as a permanent institution. The JWC is charged with implementing the agreement, and with any additional water matters that may arise subsequently. It is made of three members from each country, and sets its own procedures and agenda. Upon its establishment the JWC began operating under co-chairing of the parties, and all decisions had to be reached by mutual agreement.

The JWC held regular meetings at short intervals, as required by the business at hand, and has been using all manner of communication channels to conduct its work. Present at the meetings were various professionals, depending on the subject being considered, and formalities were waived in favor of consensual decisions.


The overall spirit of the water agreement is one of cooperation. The areas mentioned specifically include (6(4)):

  • development of existing and new water sources and increasing the water availability
  • prevention of contamination of water resources,
  • mutual assistance in the alleviation of shortages,
  • transfer of information and joint research and development in water related subjects.

Rightful Allocations

As presented earlier, the parties did not base allocations on some set of principles external to their agreement. The term “rightful allocations” served to provide a psychological reference to “rights” while basing the allocations on what is specified in the agreement itself. Much time was spent during the negotiations on these and similar terms (Haddadin, pp. 503–7). These discussions were not merely linguistic; they served for the parties to convey to each other the basic positions they held on what the proper allocations should be.

Ambassador Eric Johnston’s proposed allocations were based primarily on the amount of arable land each party could irrigate with Jordan water, and the water duty (amount per hectare irrigated, which can also be expressed as the depth of water to be supplied to the land). These criteria were the ones most relevant to the era in which Johnston made his proposals; after the 1980s the critical element has more and more been human consumption.

The allocations for Jordan are made up of three tiers. The first allocates waters from existing sources. The second includes quantities from sources yet to be developed, but which are quite well defined. The third tier is titled “additional water” and reads: “Jordan and Israel will cooperate in finding sources for the supply to Jordan of an additional quantity of 50 MCM/yr of water of drinkable standards” (II(I)(3)); it adds: “To this end, the Joint Water Committee will develop, within one year of the entry into force of the treaty, a plan for the supply to Jordan of the above mentioned additional water.”

This does not define where these sources for the additional water stipulated at 50 MCM per year (“the third 50 MCM”) would be found, or who would pay for their development and the cost of supply to Jordan. Whereas in other sources of additional water to Jordan that are mentioned in the agreement these details were given, the water sources and payment for this amount were not. The plan stated in the agreement was not completed within the one-year time frame. Jordan tried to convince Israel to provide this water from Lake Kinneret, while Israel insisted that this was not in the agreement, that the sources had to be found in Jordan as well as in Israel, and that Jordan would have to bear the full economic cost of development and supply. On May 5, 1997, Munther Haddadin and Ariel Sharon had debated the matter. In a summit meeting in Aqaba on May 8, 1997, it was agreed that, until a desalination plant is built and is operational, Israel will supply Jordan between 25 and 30 MCM of water from Lake Tiberias. In 1998, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and then Water Commissioner Meir Ben-Meir agreed that “a storage volume of 60 MCM will be provided for the Jordan share in the Yarmouk floods. This volume is in the Lake of Galilee.” This was stated to be “in compliance with the provisions of Annex II to the Peace Treaty, and without any change to their respective shares in the Yarmouk River” (Haddadin, 2002 p. 438).

Priority given to Existing Uses

Existing use is given priority in several places in the agreement,[3] including Israel’s existing uses on the Jordan River (II(I)(2)(c))[4] and Israel’s existing use of groundwater in Emeq Ha’arava/Wadi Araba (II(IV)(1)) as well as Jordan’s existing use of groundwater there (II(IV)(3)).

"Increasing the Pie"

The parties agreed that they both face a water scarcity that cannot be overcome by merely dividing the existing resources. The agreement therefore states: “The Parties recognise that their water resources are not sufficient to meet their needs. More water should be supplied for their use through various methods, including projects of regional and international cooperation.” (6(3)). There is a list of approaches to achieving this objective, including development of new sources, preventing contamination, mutual assistance in alleviation of water shortage, and exchange of information. Specific elements are listed in Annex II.

Groundwater in Wadi Araba/Emek Ha'arava

In the Jordan Rift Valley, north of the Gulf of Aqaba: “In accordance with the provisions of this Treaty, some wells drilled and used by Israel along with their associated systems fall on the Jordanian side of the border” but “Israel shall retain the use of these wells and systems in the quantity and quality detailed in Appendix 1 . . .” (II(IV)(1)) and “Israel may increase the abstraction rate from wells and systems in Jordan by up to 10 MCM/yr above the yields referred to in paragraph 1 above, subject to the determination by the Joint Water Committee that this undertaking is hydrogeologically feasible and does not harm existing Jordanian uses. Such increase is to be carried out within five years of the entry into force of the Treaty” (II(VI)(3)).

The 10 MCM/yr from groundwater in the south is parallel to another quantity of 10 MCM/yr that Jordan is to receive from “desalination of about (20) MCM of saline springs now diverted to the Jordan River” around the Kinneret. The two quantities are not linked specifically in the agreement, but they were conceived as co-measures: one to provide water to Jordan, the other to Israel.

Dealing with Variability of Flows in the Rivers

Variability of flows in watercourses that are to be allocated among parties in an international agreement causes substantial difficulties. Agreements have to be well defined, implementable, and enforceable, and decision makers tend to ask for and agree to sign agreements that are easy to understand and not subject to “if–then.” The history of international water agreements shows that variability of water yields has caused difficulties in framing agreements and particularly in their implementation.

The approach taken in the Israel–Jordan water agreement is as follows. There are two rivers under consideration in the northern part of their joint border: the Yarmouk and Jordan. The agreement is that, on each of these, one party is given a fixed quantity and the other is allowed utilization of the rest. The fixed quantity is small relative to the total flow of the river, so that Party A (the one receiving the fixed quantity) is (almost) guaranteed this amount, while the Party B makes its own decisions on the storage and conveyance facilities it builds to utilize the rest, which can be highly variable.

Israel is entitled to certain quantities in summer and winter from the Yarmouk, and Jordan has designed and built the diversion structures at Adassiya/Point 121 (Haddadin, 2002, p. 443). On the Jordan, Israel is entitled to maintain its current while Jordan is entitled to an annual quantity equivalent to that of Israel, “provided however, that Jordan’s use will not harm the quantity or quality of the above Israeli uses.”

While the method of dealing with shortages covers a major part of the possible cases, there is no stated mechanism for “sharing shortages” when they occur, namely when the flows are very low. This has happened in the years since the agreement was signed, and caused difficulty. Allocations in Israel were curtailed due to a drought, and the then Water Commissioner stated that it would not be possible for Israel to allow Jordan its allocation as per the agreement, and it would have to reduce it. This was retracted when Jordan stood on the firmness of its allocation from the Yarmouk, and the full Jordanian allocation was provided. Actually, the regime followed between 1979 and the signing of the treaty was an example of good will demonstrated by both parties, but primarily by Israel. When there were drought years, Israel allowed Jordan to receive some more flow at the expense of the Israeli share. This tradition was helpful in the negotiations and may have been one reason why the two parties did not specify a method of drought management, namely sharing of shortages. They both valued the regime of cooperation and considered that if it worked during the era of no peace it should work even better during the era of peace.

Insufficient Storage

There is no adequate storage in the Jordanian water system to enable effective utilization of the waters allocated to it in the agreement. Lake Kinneret serves a major storage reservoir in Israel’s water system, and provides about 25–30 percent of the country’s fresh water supply. The lake serves to regulate the inflows and allows some over-year storage. To provide Jordan with the ability to use some of the water allocated to it under the agreement, “Jordan concedes to Israel pumping an additional (20) MCM from the Yarmouk in winter in return for Israel conceding to transferring to Jordan during the summer period the quantity specified in paragraph (2.a) below from the Jordan River” (I(1)(b)). The agreement is then that: “In return for the additional water that Jordan concedes to Israel in winter in accordance with paragraph (1.b) above, Israel concedes to transfer to Jordan in the summer period (2) MCM from the Jordan River directly upstream from the Deganya gates on the river.” (I(2)(a)).

Lake Kinneret (also known as the Sea of Galilee and Lake Tiberias) was mentioned by name in previous proposals, notably by Eric Johnston, but it does not appear in the Jordan–Israel Treaty (by any of its names). In stating where Jordan would receive its water from the Israeli system, the location is called “directly upstream from the Deganya gates on the river” (I(2)(a)). This location is actually at the lower end of the Kinneret, but Israel did not allow the name of the lake to appear in the treaty because Jordan is not riparian to the lake itself, only to the Yarmouk River and then to the Jordan River below the confluence of the Yarmouk. It was therefore intentional that the location of the supply point was specified as it was.

Still, it is clear that Israel has provided Jordan with storage to regulate its allocations. While this storage was not named as such in the treaty, the Kinneret was mentioned as the storage in the March 10, 1998 agreement between Israeli Minister Ariel Sharon and Water Commissioner Meir Ben-Meir and Jordanian Minster Haddadin.

Water Quality

There are cases in which international water agreements failed to mention water quality, and this aspect came to haunt the parties later. The Jordan-Israel agreement pays special attention to this aspect, as well as to protection of the environment (Shmueli and Shamir, 2001). The parties agreed to protect water resources of mutual interest (II(III)) and jointly monitor them.

Attention was also given to the quality supplied by one party to the other from sources in its territory: “The quality of water supplied from one country to the other at any given location shall be equivalent to the quality of the water used from the same location by the supplying country” (II(III)(4)). This was done to ascertain that the recipient shall have no claim as to the quality of water supplied to it. This relates to groundwater from wells in Jordan taken by Israel. It also relates to the water transferred to Jordan at the diversion point on the Yarmouk River as well as that “from the Jordan River directly upstream from the Deganya gates.”

The absence of such a stipulation might open up the possibility of arguments as to the quality of the water that the recipient supplies its customers.

In summer 1998, poor water quality in West Amman, coming from the water treatment plant whose raw water is pumped from the King Abdallah Canal, which receives water from the Yarmouk and from Lake Kinneret, caused health concerns in Jordan, and was a factor in bringing down the Government. While there were voices in Jordan that sought to place the blame on Israel, the above stipulation (II(III)(4)) clearly places the responsibility on the recipient, Jordan in this case.

Its Complexity Provides a Means for Marketing it

The water agreement is quite complex, not only for the uninitiated who know little or nothing about the specifics of the case, but even for water professionals in the region. It takes quite a while to explain its principles and details.

This provides a means for “marketing” the agreement to interested parties and the general public in both countries. It must be expected that there will be objections to any agreement, on matters of principle or detail. Those opposed to a peace agreement between the countries – and they exist on both sides – find flaws and attempt to show that overall their side lost or got less than it should. On both sides there are those who are more directly affected by the agreement, for example consumers in the vicinity of the Jordan and Yarmouk, who believe they should have lost less or gained more, whatever the case may be. And there is the general public, who are naturally concerned, and the media that looks for the dramatic.

A complex agreement has to be explained, and this provides an opportunity to allay unfounded claims and explain the overall benefits, each party to its side, of having reached this particular agreement, and why a better one (for its side) was not feasible.

This was the case, on both sides. Publications and statements explaining the benefits of the agreement – each to it own interests – appeared for quite a while after the agreement was signed. It remains for a historian to assess, in perspective, whether this evaluation is indeed correct.


The previous sections cover the principal elements of the agreement. Some additional aspects are mentioned below, in the overall observations regarding the agreement.

The following observations are specific to the Israel–Jordan water agreement, but also have general relevance to water agreements:

  • The water agreement is but one part of an overall peace treaty. What it accomplishes for each side in the area of water should be viewed in light of the total treaty, and not in isolation. This aspect goes beyond the scope of the present case study.
  • The agreement does not refer explicitly to international law.
  • The agreement is based on pragmatic arrangements that stipulate the locations, times, quantities, and qualities of water allocations, and, where relevant, the financial arrangements.
  • The parties recognize that additional sources have to be developed, as the existing ones cannot satisfy their needs.
  • The agreement recognizes the parties’ joint interest in developing new sources of water, not merely dividing the existing ones.
  • Uncertainties in flows are addressed through allocating on each source a fixed low amount to one party and all the rest to the other.
  • Protection of water quality and the environment are integral parts of the agreement.
  • Effects by and/or on other parties in the region (Palestinian Authority, Syria) are not mentioned in the agreement.
  • The agreement is quite complex, providing opportunities for each side to present its own perspective on what it has achieved.

The agreement has been in effect since 1994, and has worked well. This indicates that both Jordan and Israel view cooperation in water a matter of national interest.


  1. Haddadin: In my view this was not in fact an agreement, but a repetition of meetings under the auspices of United Nations Truce Supervision Organization as per the Truce Agreement between the two countries signed in March 1949.
  2. Haddadin: I see no connection between the negotiations in the Middle East Peace Process in the 1990s and the ad hoc site meetings conducted in the 1980s under UN supervision.
  3. Haddadin: Only in the case of Israel's use of the Jordan River water below Lake Tiberias.
  4. Haddadin: This is connected to Israel's continued use of some 300 ha of Jordanian land in Wadi Araba at el Ghamr/Zofar region.


  • Haddadin, M. J. 2002. Diplomacy on the Jordan: International Conflict and Negotiated Resolution. Boston /Dordrecht /London, Kluwer Academic. 535 pp.
  • ——. 2002a. Response to Commentary by Uri Shamir in Natural Resources Forum Vol. 26, No. 1, Natural Resources Forum, Vol. 26, No. 3, pp 254–5.
  • Israel–Jordan Water Agreement (1994) can be found on Prof. Aaron Wolf’s website of international water agreements at: http://terra.geo.orst.ed /users/tfdd
  • Raiffa, H. 1982. The Art and Science of Negotiations. Cambridge, Mass., Belkamp/Harvard University Press.
  • Shamir, U. 1998. Water Agreements Between Israel and Its Neighbors. In: J. Albert, M. Bernhardson, and R. Kenna (eds.) Transformations of Middle Eastern Natural Environments: Legacies and Lessons, pp. 274–96. Bulletin Series, Number 103, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
  • ——. 2002. Commentary on “Diplomacy on the Jordan: International Conflict and Negotiated Resolution.” Natural Resources Forum, Vol. 26, No. 1, pp. 75–8.
  • Shmueli, D. and Shamir, U. 2001. Application of International Law of Water Quality To Recent Middle East Water Agreements. Water Policy, Vol. 3, No. 5, pp. 405–23.
  • Wolf, A. 1998. Conflict and Cooperation Along International Waterways. Water Policy, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 251–65.

See also


The authors of Part 1 and Part 2 of this case study, Munther Haddadin and Uri Shamir respectively, have agreed to comment on each other’s accounts. The footnotes to this text are comments by Munther Haddadin that Uri Shamir has not accepted.

The October 1994 Jordan–Israel Peace Treaty will sometimes be referred to for brevity as the treaty, while its Annex II “Water Related Matters” will be referred to as the water agreement.

External Resources


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