Cooperating Rivals: The Riparian Politics of the Jordan River Basin
by Jeffrey Sosland
Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007. 293 pp. $80
Reviewed by Patrick Clawson
Middle East Quarterly
Sosland, assistant professor of international business and trade at the American University, states that there is no record of any war any time in the last 4,000 years having been precipitated by water scarcity. So much for all that nonsense about "water wars," especially in the Israeli-Arab conflict. In fact, water in that context has proven to be more a subject for cooperation than for military conflict.
Not that this cooperation has been smooth. Indeed, the heart of Sosland's account is the details of the tough bargaining stands, unilateral actions, and sneaky cheating on agreements in which all sides have engaged. A particularly entertaining chapter sets out the 1967-94 Jordanian-Israeli secret cooperation that involved periodic high-level meetings at a picnic table on the banks of the Yarmouk River near the spot where it feeds into the Jordan. That cooperation illustrates one of Sosland's main conclusions, namely, secret cooperation facilitated by a third party—usually the U.S. government—has worked best. It also undercuts the claim in his conclusions that multilateralism (that is, the involvement of many states in a broad negotiating process) has been useful. To the contrary, Sosland's account establishes that the multilateral water talks launched at the 1991 Madrid peace conference accomplished little, despite Washington's best efforts.
Sosland's account is very much that of a political scientist concerned about governments, not that of an economist or hydrologist. He barely mentions how subsidized water prices have encouraged farming, which consumes the vast majority of water throughout the Jordan River basin. He only makes passing references to advances in technology that have allowed the basin's agricultural output to more than double in the last few decades without consuming more water. He hardly refers to the increasing use of recycled water in agriculture and industry, which saves fresh water for urban consumers. In short, Cooperating Rivals is strong at describing the cooperation of governments but weak on analyzing the overall water problems of the Jordan basin.
Related Topics: Israel & Zionism, Jordan, Syria | Patrick Clawson | Summer 2008 MEQ
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