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Israeli Paper Reports Israel-Syria "Peace Canal"

Proposal on Water Issue


Text of report by web version of Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv on 26 May

[Article by Arik Bender: "Pipeline at End of Tunnel"]

Although the bells of peace between Israel and Syria have only just started ringing again,
new peace plans are already springing up throughout the Middle East, and are just waiting
for the negotiating team to pluck them and offer them as a gift to the other side. One of
these, which can be described as no less than grandiose, has recently been set before the
Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee. The plan proposes consolidating,
institutionalizing, and strengthening the peace agreement being worked out between Israel
and Syria by means of a "peace canal," an international project for conveying water from
Turkey via Syria and the Golan Heights, which could provide a solution for a many of the
water problems affecting Syria, Israel, Jordan, and the PNA.

The plan, which is a kind of sister project to the "Red-Dead Canal" in the south, was
dreamt up by Bo'az Wachtel, in his role as a research associate at the US Freedom House
Institute, which was founded by Eleanor Roosevelt, and which is involved in projects to
advance peace and human rights in the world. And if you believe what Wachtel has to say,
and the many elements who have heard about the plans and been impressed by them,
water will soon be arriving at our taps direct from Turkey, perhaps after a stop in
Damascus.

The plan is based on bringing 2-3 billion cubic meters of water per annum from two rivers
in southern-central Turkey - the Seyhan and Ceyhan - in the area of the city of Adana. The
rivers have a joint annual volume of some 14 billion cubic meters of water. Most of the
water goes to waste and flows into the Mediterranean Sea uninterrupted. For comparison's
sake, the total joint water requirement of Israel and the Palestinians is "only"
approximately 2 billion cubic meters annually.

According to Wachtel's proposal, the water would flow into an underground conduit of
closed pipelines and canals to the Syrian- Turkish border, and from there it would flow to
Western Syria along the Haleb-Damascus axis and to other towns on the axis that are
suffering from quantitative and qualitative water problems, until it reaches Damascus.

From there, the water would run in underground pipelines to the southern slopes of Mount
Hermon, from where it would flow north-to- south along the international borderline, which
might become the new border between Syria and Israel, until Wadi Ruqqad. In this
section, which runs for approximately 40 km, a deep and wide water canal would be dug,
and a modular tank barrier, which would be designed by a former combat engineering
officer, would be incorporated on both sides. A number of bridges would be built above this
barrier for the transit of goods and people in peacetime. In a military situation, the bridges
would be bombed, and the water carrier would serve as a land-based physical barrier
against sudden attack by Syrian armour.

According to the proposal, the water would come down the slopes of the western Golan
Heights and flow to the upper reaches of the Jordan in the area of Kefar Hanasi. The
energy generated from the process by the altitude differentials would be used to transport
the water along the whole of the route - some 700 km - and to raise the water to a height
of some 1,000 meters in the area of the Jordanian heights.

"In contrast to the Red-Dead Canal in the Dead Sea region," Wachtel explains, "the
electricity generated as part of the peace canal on the Golan Heights would not be
squandered on desalinating expensive seawater, but would be used to independently
produce the energy required to transport the water from Turkey."
Under the proposal, the water would be split up equally between Israel, Jordan, Syria, and
the Palestinians, with each side gaining access to some 250 million cubic meters annually.
An additional 800 million cubic meters would be directed via the River Jordan to fill the
Dead Sea, and would be purchased jointly by the Israeli and Jordanian Governments with
the cooperation of the Dead Sea industries of Jordan and Israel.

An extension of the canal that would pass through the River Yarmukh would enable the
Jordanians to supply water to the towns of Irbid and Amman, both of which are suffering
from a very severe water shortage, and to recultivate areas that have been abandoned on
the Jordanian side of the Jordan Valley. The Israelis, for their part, would mainly use the
water to desalinate underground water in the coastal aquifer, which is being depleted, but
also to revive the Jordan and save the Dead Sea.

"My plan is based on an idea put forward in the past by Turkish President Ozal," Wachtel
relates. "He put forward a super-grandiose plan for transporting water in a pipeline
through Syria, Jordan, Israel, the West Bank, and Saudi Arabia. The plan involved the
supply of water to nine countries. The plan was rejected at that time because it was
regarded as unrealistic, and because Arab states with oil reserves preferred desalination
plants."

The current plan, Wachtel explains, is an adaptation of the Turkish idea to the immediate
needs of Syria, Israel, Jordan, and the PNA for water. "The battle over water sources is
one of the main impediments to a solution of the Middle East conflict," he explains.

Wachtel drafted the initial lines of the plan in the mid-1990's. Now, with the start of
contacts between Israel and Syria, he has decided to give it a stronger push. Wachtel
recently sent the plan to the chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence
Committee, MK Tzahi Hanegbi, so that he could disseminate it among the committee's
members. He says that he also intends to pass the plan on for the perusal of Yoram
Turbowicz and Shalom Turgeman, members of the Israeli negotiating team.

The grandiose plan was also conveyed in its entirety to the Syrian ambassador in
Washington, Imad Mustafa, and to various elements in Syria by electronic mail. "I haven't
had a direct reply from the Syrians, but I know for certain that the plan reached them, and
that they even discussed it with the Turks," Wachtel says.

Dr Alon Li'el, former director general of the Foreign Ministry, who serves as chairman of
the Israel-Syria Peace Movement, and who has been involved in various peace initiatives
between the states, takes an enthusiastic view of the "Golan Canal.""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 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 well."

According to Dr Li'el, the Golan Canal project will deepen Syria's involvement in the peace
process and strengthen its foundations. "A few months ago, Bo'az Wachtel presented the
plan to me, and I suggested that he should pass it on to the Syrians to look at," says the
veteran diplomat. "I know that the plan reached Syrian hands, and that he received
encouraging, unofficial responses from the Syrian side."

MK Hanegbi also thinks that it is a good plan: "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, in order for the negotiations between Israel
and Syria to go well, a situation needs to be created in which peace is beneficial for both
sides. "The negotiations between Israel and Syria have failed three 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."
Meanwhile, until the plan is officially placed on the negotiating table, Wachtel is trying to
promote it by putting it on Internet sites that deal with Syria and where Syrian
intellectuals, scientists, students, and official elements are accustomed to surf. "I'm hoping
to get direct responses from Syrian sources on these sites," says Wachtel, who adds that
he is convinced that the adoption of the plan will greatly increase the chances of a peace
agreement between the two states.

"In terms of conflict resolution, we have two sides that can only reap benefits. Each side
will have an interest in preserving its continued participation in the project, and the
splitting of the advantages between the sides is balanced and symmetrical - Turkey will
earn foreign currency from selling the water, and its geopolitical standing will improve in
the West; Syria will get the Golan Heights, and will be able to resettle and rebuild Al-
Qunaytirah; Jordan will gain access to a quality source of water in sufficient quantities and
will be able to store water between the winter and summer; the Palestinians, who make a
peace agreement with Israel conditional on honouring their water rights and dividing up
the mountain aquifer, will be given an opportunity for a redistribution of the water
following both sides' increased water supply."

And what will Israel gain from the project? "Israel will gain peace with the Syrians, with
the possible bonus of severing the link that Syria has with Tehran and Hezbollah," says
Wachtel, who adds: "The Golan Canal will enable a stabilization of Israel's water economy,
the rehabilitation of the Jordan, and a solution to the problem of the shrinking Dead Sea,
and the canal will serve as a physical barrier that will prevent a sudden Syrian attack on
the north," explains the man behind the idea.

The proposal requires the United Nations, the United States, the EU, Russia, and Japan to
provide international guarantees for the project, it being clear beforehand what penalty will
be used if a side violates or harms the enterprise.

Through members of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee and his approach to
Turbowicz and Turgeman, Wachtel is seeking to get the Knesset and government to order
the water commissioner, Meqorot, and the Agriculture and Finance Ministries to embark on
an environmental, economic, technical, and social feasibility study of the project. At the
same time, he is hoping that the Turks and Americans will get more deeply involved and
advance the project in talks in Ankara to the benefit of all the sides.

Wachtel says that in the past, he handed the plan to Shim'on Peres, the patron of the
original "Red-Dead Canal" between Israel and Jordan. "Peres, who is full of grandiose
ideas, told me: There is vision and energy in what you are saying, but it's time hasn't
come yet," Wachtel recalls, and says: "In my opinion, the time has now come."

Originally published by NRG Ma'ariv website, Tel Aviv, in Hebrew 26 May 08.

(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring Middle East. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All
rights Reserved.

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Published: 2008/05/28 06:00:15 CDT

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