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Water in Israel: Speech on Israel's Water Rights

(November 30, 1953)

In a review in the Knesset of Israel's foreign relations, Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett devoted the final part of his speech to the dispute concerning Israel's water rights. The relevant parts follow:

One matter is still pending, namely, the subject of the Security Council deliberations in recent weeks: the future of our work in diverting the Jordan to generate electricity which is also linked to future irrigation plans. I will not enter into details, partly because they have been made public and also because the matter is still under discussion and no decision has yet been taken. In this campaign, too, we have invested much effort. We insist on our right to continue and finish the work we have begun. We disrupted it temporarily in order to allow the Security Council a short spell to clarify the issue in a calm atmosphere, just as previously we were prepared to facilitate the clarification of certain points for the UNTSO Chief of Staff by a short halt in the work. We are certainly interested in renewing the work in full agreement with the UN. The only limitations which we shall be ready to contemplate as justified, in so far as renewing the work is concerned, relate to securing individual rights against any damage. The yard-stick for the sincerity and efficiency of such a guarantee is approval of its sufficiency by an authorized UN institution. We shall not agree to accept the approval of any other body on this matter.

As for the question of regional water planning which has meanwhile arisen, we were the first to have declared our readiness to sit with our three neighbours with whom we have, or may have, common water interests Jordan, Syria and Lebanon to elucidate and determine a regional settlement of water resources on the basis of their just apportionment, and if they so desire, to arrive also at a joint planning of water utilization for irrigation and the supply of energy for the good of all factors concerned. As long as no such settlement is established again, because of the refusal of the neighbouring countries to convene with Israel we shall deem ourselves free and justified to treat the waters of the rivers flowing in our country as our own. It is inconceivable that a ban or delay be imposed on our development work pending the neighbouring countries' consent to cooperate. Such a condition is tantamount to putting the lid on every Israeli development project dependent on utilization of water resources in the north. On the contrary, we are convinced that the uninterrupted continuation of Israeli development projects is, possibly, the most efficient means for bringing about regional cooperation.

Finally, we are prepared to examine in good faith any regional water plan which may be submitted by any international body. It was in this spirit that we promised to approach, and indeed did so approach the study of a plan proposed some time ago in general outline by the Government of the United States. Our method in the study of such plans will be dual: first, a very careful examination of the assessments and the scientific and technical data upon which the plan is founded, in the light of our vast accumulation of knowledge and experience and on the basis of opinion of experts of international repute whom we trust, secondly, a firm insistence on the full quantity of water and available energy necessary for Israel's economic development and its very Survival. The plan submitted to us is conspicuously faulty from both these aspects, as well as from others. Discussion of the plan is not yet concluded.

All those wishing to win our cooperation in this sphere must realize one thing. For Israel, water is no luxury, not even merely a highly desirable and useful addition to our system of natural resources. Water for us is life itself. It is food for the people and not food alone. Without large scale irrigation projects we shall not achieve high productivity, balancing the economy or economic independence. For without irrigation we shall not at all produce a worthy agriculture under our special circumstances, and without agriculture particularly highly developed and progressive agriculture shall not be a people rooted in the land, secure in its existence, stable in its character, in control of all the possibilities of material and spiritual creation inherent in it and which this country can open before it.

Sources: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs