Israel Environment Bulletin Winter 1995-5755, Vol. 18, No. 1


Since its establishment in 1948, the State of Israel has striven to attain peaceful relations with its Arab neighbors. In 1979, the historic peace agreement with Egypt was signed. Today, as a result of a process initiated at the Madrid Conference in October 1991, direct talks have been inaugurated between Israel and its neighbors along two separate but complementary negotiating tracksbilateral and multilateral.

Today, the Middle East faces a new reality as peace negotiations are beginning to bear fruit: the Israel-PLO Declaration of Principles of September 1993 and the Gaza-Jericho Agreement of May 1994, on the one hand, and the Common Agenda between Israel and Jordan of September 1993, the Washington Declaration of July 1994 and the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty of October 1994, on the other hand.

The Environment in the Jordanian Peace Talks

The bilateral talks between Jordan and Israel, initiated at the Madrid Conference, continued in Washington for almost two years before signing of the blueprint for peace (the Common Agenda) in September 1993. At the same time, agreement was reached to explore the potential for future bilateral cooperation within the regional context in such realms as economic development, tourism, natural and human resources, and infrastructure. This, in turn, led to the signing of a sub-agenda on water, environment and related issues in June 1994, to the creation of a sub-commission on these subjects, and to the first meeting of the Israeli and Jordanian bilateral delegations in the region itself in July 1994.

At Ein Avrona, in the Arava Valley north of Aqaba and Eilat, the delegations reaffirmed their commitment to continued talks and to cooperation, inter alia, on water, environment and energy generation. At Ein Avrona, moreover, Dr. Israel Peleg, director general of the Ministry of the Environment and head of the Israeli delegation to the Working Group on the Environment and Dr. Dureid Mahasna, director of the Port of Aqaba and head of the Jordanian delegation to the Working Group on the Environment, initialed a landmark agreement on environmental cooperation between the two countries. The agreement expresses the readiness of both states to cooperate on environmental protection and the prevention of transboundary pollution. It calls on the states to cooperate in formulating and implementing tools for environmental policy including environmental planning and environmental impact assessment, legislation and regulation, research, monitoring and emergency preparedness, and implementation of international and regional agreements. It specifies subjects slated for cooperation, including: nature protection, air quality, prevention of marine and coastal pollution, treatment of waste including hazardous waste, pest control, desertification, environmental education, noise and treatment of natural disasters.

Agreement was also reached on the implementation of field projects in the region. For this purpose, it was agreed to divide the border region between Israel and Jordan into subregions: the Gulf of Eilat and its coastal and marine environment, the Arava Valley, the Dead Sea area, and the Jordan Valley.

This agreement was subsequently incorporated and ratified as Annex IV of the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan, signed on October 26, 1994.

(See p. ). Article 18 of the treaty states specifically that: "The parties will co-operate in matters relating to the environment, a sphere to which they attach great importance, including conservation of nature and prevention of pollution, as set forth in Annex IV. They will negotiate an agreement on the above, to be concluded not later than 6 months from the exchange of the instruments of ratification of this treaty." In accordance with this Article, the governments of Jordan and Israel are currently concluding the preparation of an agreement on cooperation in environmental matters and nature conservation.

In addition to the bilateral talks, a Trilateral Israel-Jordan-US Economic Committee was established to discuss economic cooperation and development. Within this forum, one sub-group is working on a scheme to develop the Jordan Rift Valley. The plan, formulated together with environmental experts from both sides, accords high priority to the protection of the environment and guarantees that environmental considerations will be incorporated into development activities to ensure minimum environmental damage. Cooperative projects currently on the agenda include the preparation of a master plan for the integrated development of the Jordan Rift Valley, including a canal linking the Red Sea to the Dead Sea; a binational park in the Dead Sea area to be called the Lowest Park on Earth; creation of a master plan for regional tourism; establishment of a joint marine park in the Gulf of Eilat; and construction of a road linking Israel and Jordan in the Eilat-Aqaba area. (See p. for additional information on the Jordan Rift Valley Scheme.)

The Environment in the Palestinian Peace Talks

The bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are based on a two-stage formula: agreement regarding 5-year Interim Self-Government Arrangements in the first stage and negotiations on permanent status issues in the second phase. From the outset, environmental considerations were included in these negotiations.

Following the Oslo Agreement, environmental negotiations with the Palestinians largely focused on the transfer of power and responsibilities for such civilian spheres as tourism, planning, nature reserves, parks, water and sewage, and environmental protection from the Israeli Civil Administration in the Gaza and Jericho areas to the Palestinians. A Joint Civil Affairs Coordination and Cooperation Committee was established to coordinate between the Palestinian Authority and Israel on civil matters.

In accordance with the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self- Government Arrangements between Israel and the Palestinians, a Palestinian Environmental Protection Authority (PEPA) was established and a joint Israeli-Palestinian committee on economic cooperation was created to focus, inter alia, on "an environmental protection plan providing for joint and/or coordinating measures in this sphere."

The months following the Declaration of Principles witnessed intensive efforts to incorporate environmental aspects into the Gaza-Jericho Agreement. An interministerial subcommittee on the environment, headed by the director general of the Ministry of the Environment, prepared a position paper on the envisioned coordination between Palestinians and Israelis on pollution prevention and environmental protection. The document, which incorporated baseline demands and requirements, underlined the importance of sustainable management and development of land, water, air, marine and coastal resources. Ongoing negotiations in the early months of 1994 led to the birth of a mutually-agreed upon document which now constitutes part of Annex II (Protocol Concerning Civil Affairs) of the Gaza-Jericho Agreement signed on May 4, 1994. (See p. of this Bulletin.)

The application of these provisions is currently on the agenda. A Directorate General for Environmental Planning under the Department of Planning and International Cooperation has been established in Gaza and, in accordance with the agreement, a Joint Israeli- Palestinian Environmental Committee began operating in November 1994. Its aim is to coordinate environmental issues and solve common problems. The Ministry of the Environment is also represented on the Israeli-Palestinian Planning Subcommittee, thus helping to ensure that environmental concerns are addressed when planning for development projects in areas governed by the Palestinian Authority. In addition, Israeli experts take an active part in committees dealing with specific development projects and, in particular, the Gaza port scheme. Environmental considerations, specifically with the regard to marine pollution and the impacts of marine structures on sediment flow, are an integral part of the planning process for this project.

The Multilateral Negotiations

The multilateral negotiations constitute an integral part of the peace-making process. While the bilateral talks are meant to end the conflicts of the past, the multilateral talks strive to build the Middle East of the future. The goal of the multilateral framework is twofoldto find solutions to key regional problems and to serve as a confidence-building measure to promote the development of normalized relations among the nations of the Middle East. The multilateral talks, inaugurated in Moscow in January 1992, include five separate forums attended by delegations from countries in the region as well as representatives of the international community. The negotiations focus on key issues that concern the entire Middle Eastwater, environment, arms control, refugees and economic development. The talks take place in working groups which meet periodically in venues throughout the world, and most recently, throughout the Middle East.

Japan chairs the Working Group on the Environment, with the United States and Russia serving as co-sponsors and the European Union as co-organizer of the talks. The group first gathered in Tokyo in June 1992 with the participation of 40 delegations as well as representatives of international organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank. Syria and Lebanon have not participated in the multilateral peace process thus far.

Since the talks were first inaugurated in Moscow in 1992, the environmental working group has met six times in order to define shared problems and identify common solutions and projects for regional cooperation. The professional, apolitical atmosphere which has characterized the talks thus far has already led to substantive progress in several areas including environmental management, emergency preparedness and prevention of marine pollution, and desertification control.

The continuation of both the bilateral and multilateral talks is expected to help forge new paths toward cooperation and collaboration

on the sensitive environmental issues facing the Middle East which will be of benefit to all the people in the region.