TEL AVIV (May. 14)
The multilateral meeting on Middle East water resources that opened in Vienna Wednesday is by no means the first time that Israel and an Arab neighbor have gotten together on the subject.
Israeli and Jordanian experts have been meeting regularly since 1984 to measure the division of water from the Yarmuk River, a Jordan tributary, which is essential to both countries.
The secret meetings of what became known as the “Yarmuk Forum” were disclosed by correspondent Dan Bechor in the daily Ha’aretz, who quoted a water expert close to Israel as his informant.
The meetings involve high levels of government. Yossi Ben-Aharon, director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, leads the Israeli team, while a senior Jordanian official is in charge of the Jordanian experts. The water commissioners of both countries also participate.
The two countries have also been cooperating on mosquito-control, it was disclosed recently. Jordanian experts have secretly visited Eilat and Israeli officials have visited Aqaba in order to monitor the situation.
The cooperation on water resources originated eight years ago after the Jordanians discovered a sand bank was blocking the flow of the Yarmuk River waters into the Jordan Valley canal.
It was impossible to remove the sandbank without Israel’s cooperation. Jordan appealed to the United States for help and a cooperative effort between Israel and Jordan was arranged.
Israel conditioned removal of the sand bank on the establishment of regular meetings with Jordanian experts to discuss the distribution of the water that flows into both countries.
The so-called “Yarmuk Forum” resulted and has been meeting regularly since then in a tent on the banks of the Yarmuk.
After lengthy arguments over where it should be placed, a bridge was built over the river, from which technicians on both sides could measure the water flow.
The measurements make sure that each country is getting its share of the water, which was determined in the 1950s by the American-mediated Yarmuk Agreement.
Israel gets 25 million cubic meters a year, as compared to 130 million cubic meters for Jordan.
A complication arose in 1987 when Jordan and Syria signed an agreement to build the Makarin “Friendship Dam.”
But the dam project died for lack of funds.
It was hoped that the Vienna meeting would harness Jordan, Syria and Israel in a joint project to resolve the region’s water issues. But Syria is boycotting all of the regional talks.