Few issues stir passions in the Middle East as much as water, and on few matters has there been as much progress in how the question is viewed. Ten years ago, the basic facts were in dispute; today there is sober analysis and solid technical work. Indeed, advances on this issue offer one sign that Arab-Israeli relations are normalizing.

The nine essays in Water, Peace, and the Middle East (two by Israelis, two by Jordanians, two by Palestinians, and three by scholars living in Great Britain) analyze the Jordan River basin, which provides water for Israel, Jordan, Syria, and the Palestinian areas. The volume does not discuss Syria's situation: Syria's isolation from the international community extends to economics and science, not just high politics. Most essays deal with water management -- prosaic issues such as pricing, recycling, and importing -- rather than with products that require much water (e.g., foodstuffs). The authors do not propose the massive investment projects so beloved of visionary politicians. Indeed, most of them explain that much more modest steps can relieve pressures, at least in the short term.

The level and quality of analysis is uneven. One essay, on multi-criteria decision aid as a means to rank the various claims on Jordan River water, is only for the dedicated specialist. The essay on Palestinian water-management options is superficial, not specifying what are the options nor laying out the advantages and disadvantages of each. The book somewhere should explain that full-cost pricing would lead farmers to makes changes (crops grown, technology) that would much reduce the water used in agriculture.