Cablegate: Mepn: Arabs, Israelis Work Cooperatively to Solve

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. On the heels of the International Court
of Justice ruling on Israel's security barrier, and rising
tension in the Occupied Territories, Israeli, Jordanian, and
Palestinian technical experts participated for four days in
Barcelona in a U.S.-sponsored workshop on wastewater reuse.
Organized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and
facilitated by USDA and Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) officials, the workshop brought together 18 water,
agriculture, health, and environment experts from the three
core parties to share experiences and expertise on
wastewater reuse practices in their respective fields. The
professional and personal dynamic was excellent, with lively
discussions and collaborative group efforts on a case study
specifically designed to reflect conditions in the Middle
East. The participants vowed to remain in contact with one
another to trade ideas and new scientific developments, the
communication of which we anticipate will be facilitated by
a website and listserve developed and hosted by EPA.
Because of the effectiveness of these activities, USDA has
received additional funding from the Department for more
workshops and we hope to capitalize on the successes of the
first series of four this past year. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) Opening the workshop were Barcelona ConGen Alsace
and the Catalan Conseller ("Minister") for the Environment,
both of whom, in their remarks, recalled the Madrid
Conference and the multilateral process that grew out of
Oslo of which this workshop is a part. Barcelona had been
chosen as the site of this activity under the umbrella of
the Multilateral Working Group on the Environment because of
the area's innovative and advanced wastewater treatment
technologies and reuse applications. During a field trip,
the participants visited two wastewater treatment plants and
their associated reuse of the effluent in a
constructed/restored wetlands and in unrestricted
agriculture. [COMMENT: It was also coincidental, but
appropriate, that Barcelona this summer is hosting "Forum
Barcelona," a global symposium on cultural diversity,
sustainable development, and conditions for peace,
reflecting the spirit of our workshop and the cooperative
process we are keen to foster among the core parties. END

3. (SBU) Six individuals from each core party, bringing
together a wealth of expertise in various water-related
fields, worked for four days in a highly-interactive
workshop setting, in which the Israeli, Jordanian, and
Palestinian officials presented the bulk of the technical
material. USDA and EPA officials also made presentations on
the U.S. experience in wastewater technologies and reuse,
facilitated discussions, responded to questions, and
developed and led a comprehensive case-study exercise that
approximated the water scarcity and agricultural constraints
in the Middle East. Unlike previous environment-related
workshops our U.S. team conducted, at which U.S. officials
did most of the lecturing, the agenda for this workshop,
developed by the core parties themselves, placed greater
emphasis on Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian experiences.
This, it was felt, would generate more discussion and
interaction among the participants-and it did.

4. (SBU) By the end of the workshop, the participants were
eager to develop a joint project and follow-on activities to
maintain the momentum they had achieved in Barcelona. One
such idea is the joint development of a Middle East Regional
Cooperation (MERC) project on a wastewater-related topic.
One official from each of the Israeli, Jordanian, and
Palestinian delegations have already held preliminary
discussions about the MERC pre-proposal. EPA, through its
regional office in Denver, has offered to develop a website
on wastewater reuse, which will include the presentations
made by the core parties and U.S. officials in Barcelona and
the first wastewater workshop proceedings in Cyprus last
year. The website is envisioned to be a resource and tool
for the core parties to continue to share information.

5. (SBU) We also successfully recruited a Tunisian official
from the Ministry of Agriculture who is a leading
international expert on wastewater reuse to participate in
the workshop. Dr. Akissa El-Bahri's active engagement in
the proceedings was welcomed by all of the parties and added
a new perspective to the topic. In our efforts to expand
the Arab representation in our multilateral water and
environment activities, the presence of a Tunisian was a
small coup and El-Bahri is an outstanding ambassador for her
country. Similarly, in our third workshop--on economic
incentives for environmental decision makers, held in Greece
last March--we included four Moroccan officials from the
Ministries of Environment and Agriculture who are
enthusiastic about other Moroccans joining these kinds of
regional training opportunities on a regular basis. When
queried by NEA Regional Environment Officer about the
possibility of encouraging greater Tunisian participation in
future multilateral activities, El-Bahri responded that she
was confident she could help identify other individuals for
follow-on regional workshops. The USDA organizers plan to
remain in contact with her through Embassy Tunis.

6. (SBU) At the invitation of NEA Senior Science Advisor
Lawson, the United Nations Environment Programme sent an
official from its Geneva-based Post Conflict Assessment Unit
to observe the workshop. UNEP had produced a controversial
desk study in 2003 on the "Environment in the Occupied
Palestinian Territories" which prompted strong reactions
from Israel and remains an ongoing irritant among Israel,
the Palestinians, and UNEP. In an effort to encourage UNEP
to undertake more constructive approaches when addressing
sensitive Palestinian/Israeli transboundary environment
issues, we invited Aniket Ghai, the Project Coordinator for
the desk study, to witness what we believe to be our
effective non-threatening formula for increased regional
cooperation on environmental topics. Ghai was impressed
with the content and format of the workshop and commented
that he was pleased to see such excellent professional and
personal interaction among the participants. He told us he
would be reporting his positive impressions back to Geneva
and UNEP's headquarters in Nairobi. Moreover, while at the
workshop, Ghai held consultations on the margins with the
Palestinian representatives of the Environmental Quality
Authority, in order to begin to identify areas of bilateral
technical assistance and training as follow-on to the desk
study. On a regional level, Ghai thought that, based on the
success of the USDA activities, UNEP would consider offering
a workshop on climate change and its associated
environmental factors for Palestinians, Israelis, and
possibly Jordanians.

7. (SBU) COMMENT: Given the current obstacles--political
and logistical--facing Israeli/Palestinian cooperation, the
series of USDA-organized technical workshops on environment-
related topics has been an unqualified success in bringing
the parties together and keeping open the channels of
communication. These activities, along with the World Bank-
managed Drylands Initiative, are the only remaining
manifestations of the Multilateral Working Group on the
Environment and should be thoroughly supported financially
and politically. In future iterations, we will strongly
encourage other international donors to attend and develop
similar complementary projects. Our efforts over the past
year to include Moroccans and Tunisians in the mix of
regional participants bode well for future activities and
should be exploited. They seem eager to learn from their
Arab and Israeli neighbors and their active engagement helps
to support our broader policy goals in the region. Such
advances, at a time when the International Court of Justice
and the UN General Assembly are ruling Israel's security
barrier illegal, can only serve to build confidence and
encourage dialogue among the parties.


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