On a family rip back to Australia, Gidon Bromberg, an Australian environmental activist now living in Israel, picked up a copy of Chris Hammer’s book The River: A Journey Through The Murray-Darling. Bromberg was inspired by Hammer’s description of the process that led to the Federal Government passing legislation in 2007 to protect the river basin; so inspired, in fact, that he decided to bring Hammer to Israel and attempt to replicate the feat and help the long-suffering Jordan River.
Bromberg has written about this in today’s Jerusalem Post.
The Australian model reflected real political will that we at Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) are still trying to create for the lower Jordan River. Years of advocacy efforts in the region have led to sewage being removed from the river, a first commitment for a limited fresh water release and a FoEME-led master plan being launched recently. But FoEME’s rehabilitation call is still generally seen as unrealistic and unachievable due to water scarcity and the national conflicts over water.
When I wrote to Chris Hammer inquiring as to whether he would come to the region and be willing to speak before Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian decision makers about the political will created in Australia, a land of water scarcity and water conflict between states, he immediately responded with a “yes, I’ll do it.” With the support of the Australian Government through her embassies in Tel Aviv and Amman and the Representative Office in Ramallah, Chris has this week completed a set of round-table discussions with parliamentarians, government ministries, scientists and local NGOs in each city.
While Bromberg is — understandably — focussed on his work with the river, it is worth noting that he is glossing over what could be, in political terms, a major step forward:
While typical skepticism remains, clear statements were made during the round-tables in Amman, Tel Aviv and Ramallah that each side would be willing to join the effort of river rehabilitation if only they had a partner on the other side. Some would say a lack of trust remains the greatest hurdle to political will.
If Bromberg successfully brings the Palestinians, Jordanians and Israelis together to improve the environment, he will have made an unprecedented diplomatic breakthrough. Until now, the three sides have only been in the same place during tense negotiations about the conflict — none of which have been particularly successful — and have failed to work together on matters in which they have a shared interest. For example, a bid last year to make the Dead Sea one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of The World’ failed, largely because the governments of Israel and Jordan and the Palestinian Authority could not coordinate a campaign, even though success would have boosted tourism for all three.
Supporting Bromberg’s program is a very positive decision by the Australian Government and may have beneficial effects beyond the environment. Bringing together all three nations living along the Jordan River to work on something that is beneficial for all of us could build relationships and instill trust that would allow more controversial topics to be broached with less hostility.