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Airgram From State Department to Certain
Posts Regarding Jordan Water Issue

(November 7, 1963)

  • Jordan Waters

FYI: The following information on the plan for unified development of Jordan Valley waters (“Unified Plan”) is based on the Department’s authoritative summary of January 31, 1956.1 This, in turn, was derived from the Memoranda of Understanding between Ambassador Eric Johnston with the Israelis dated July 5, 1955, and with the Technical Committee of the Arab riparian states dated October 11, 1955. The present summary should in no circumstances be presented as substituting for, or amending, the contents of the Memoranda of Understanding.

At the conclusion of Ambassador Johnston’s negotiating missions with the Arab states and Israel, he was informed in September 1955 that from the technical viewpoint this Plan was acceptable to Israel, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. End FYI.

1. Basic Premise

The main premise of the Plan was that the reasonable needs of all in-basin users in the riparian states must be provided for before out-of-basin uses can be considered. Particular care was taken to assure to Jordan, as the primary beneficiary, the largest amount of water which could be economically captured and used in its cultivable areas of the Jordan Valley. The share accruing to Israel represented the residue after equitable Arab claims had been deducted. There was in 1955 clear understanding that this Israel share could be used legitimately either in or out of the basin.

2. Storage

The Upper Yarmuk: The Plan envisioned construction of a dam on the upper Yarmuk River to impound 300 million cubic meters (mcms) of regular flow of Yarmuk River water, and to generate 150 million kilowatt hours of electric energy a year.
Lake Tiberias: Since no dam on the Yarmuk can economically capture and store all Yarmuk flows, the Plan proposed storage of flood waters, which are absolutely essential for complete irrigation of Arab lands, in Lake Tiberias for the “account” of Jordan. Averaged out over a period of years, these flood flows would amount to approximately 80 million cubic meters a year.
The Hasbani: The Plan provided for a survey to determine the feasibility of constructing a storage dam on the Hasbani River to assure that water allocated to Lebanon could actually be made available.

3. Division of Water

International law recognizes that each of the nations on an international river system has a right to an equitable portion of the water. Since there is no single, generally accepted principle on which the division of water can be based, in the present Plan the basic principle was adopted of assuring to the in-basin users enough water to meet the needs of all their lands that could feasibly be irrigated. In accomplishing this objective, the Plan divided the waters as follows, in mcms:

To Lebanon 35 mcms from the Hasbani
To Syria 20 mcms from the Banias
  22 mcms from the Jordan
  90 mcms from the Yarmuk
  132 mcms total
To Jordan 377 mcms from the Yarmuk
  100 mcms from the Jordan
  243 mcms from the side wadis of the Jordan
  720 mcms total
To Israel 25 mcms from the Yarmuk


The Plan stated that except for the above withdrawals and deliveries the waters of the Jordan River would be available for Israel’s use. The Plan further stipulated that if and when it became possible to collect and channel off the highly saline water from certain springs in Lake Tiberias, half of this saline water so diverted, amounting to 15 mcms, might be considered part of Jordan’s 100 mcms share of upper Jordan waters from Lake Tiberias.

4. International Supervision

An essential ingredient in the Plan would be an impartial body of water engineers, none of whom would be a national of any Arab state or of Israel, or be in their employ. This body’s functions would include ensuring that no project inconsistent with the Plan be undertaken, establishing patterns for and supervising withdrawals and releases of water, making calculations for releases, keeping records, and making reports.

5. US Public Position

The Unified Plan was negotiated by the United States and the riparian states pursuant to UN survey recommendations such as the 1949 UNCCP Clapp report and the 1953 UNRWA-TVA-Charles T. Main report. Technical representatives of the riparian states, in collaboration with whom the Plan was devised, unanimously endorsed it and submitted recommendations favoring it to their respective governments. Although the Arab League Political Committee failed to endorse the Plan on a political basis and returned it to the Technical Committee for “further consideration”, the negotiations were carried out in an international atmosphere, no feasible alternative to the method of reaching the necessary international agreement on this issue has been suggested, and no comprehensive proposal for the equitable distribution other than that outlined above has been formulated since the technical agreement by any body of technical representatives of either party. The US therefore considers that the Unified Plan represents the tacit but effective consensus of the international community.


1The summary was written by Oliver Troxel, who had been on the staff of the Johnston Mission, and was distributed to the parties informally by the Department of State at the end of the negotiations. A copy of the summary is ibid., NEA/IAI Files: Lot 70 D 229, Jordan Waters Jordan Valley Plan—January 31, 1956.

Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 33–1 JORDAN. Unclassified. Drafted by Kinsolving on October 31, cleared by Wehmeyer and Campbell in draft, and approved by Davies. Sent to Amman, Baghdad, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Jidda, London, Tel Aviv, USUN, Ankara, Athens, and Tehran. Foreign Relations of The United States, 1961–1963, Volume XVIII, NEAR EAST, 1962–1963.