The meeting was devoted to the regional irrigation plan initiated by the Americans (Johnston). The protocol runs 43 pages, about 33 of which cover Sharett’s remarks.
There was a time, when we existed under the umbrella of the British Mandate, that we tried to solve the problem of the use of the country’s water by getting concessions which covered the whole area of the Mandate. But things have changed. New border lines have emerged and have aggravated the situation of the country’s water management in comparison to the past. But meanwhile we became accustomed to some concepts of water planning, and our public has become used to seeing some water sources as if they were ours. [People feel that] when the time comes, we can do in this sphere whatever we want. However, it is enough to have a look at the map and be aware of basic international concepts in order to realize that the matter is far from being simple – that we are not the sole owners of those water sources which we saw as ours only.
We are dealing here with the two main rivers of the country, the Jordan and the Yarmuk. In both cases the situation is rather complicated. Two of the three sources of the Jordan are situated abroad, in Syria and in the Lebanon. Further, the Jordan runs through the demilitarized zone, while in its lower part it flows through the Kingdom of Jordan. As for the Yarmuk, it forms the border between Syrian and Jordan, and a line around 8-9 km of it flows along our border, but mainly inside the southern demilitarized zone, where our relations with Syria are highly complicated.
Being aware of this situation, our declared policy has been that we are interested in a regional, international water settlement, and that we are willing, any time and any hour, to sit down together with our neighbors in order to coordinate an equitable division of the water among us. [But] we added that as long as our neighbors are not ready to do this, we shall go ahead with our own plans. [- - -]
We said to ourselves that if we reached a settlement, some compromise, we would get some advantages, for such a move would bring us nearer to the possibility of using the Litani waters, because Lebanon’s opposition in this matter is political and a climate of enmity and hatred is not conducive to winning over hearts for the inclusion of the Litani in the overall water plan. On the other hand, if the implementation of the plan begins with smaller dimensions, and if the going is good – and the “if” here is very big – then the road might be paved to the inclusion of the Litani in the course of time. [- - -]
There are among us those who oppose Johnston’s plan, claiming that we cannot agree to receive less than 50% of the water [as against 45% or even less, as the plan suggested]. I would like to pose a contrary opinion. I think that if we succeed in some improvement of the division, then it will be not a bad one for us. First, it would allot us a quantity which is not very far from that which we envisaged in the past, when we weighed the division of the two rivers [between us and Jordan]. Second, this would make it possible for us to work freely, within our abilities, for a number of years. Third, this would open up possibilities of American financing. [- - -] Fourth, this would be a first, but serious, beginning for uniting us and the Arab countries in a common project.
Fifth, this would give a first push to the settling of [Palestinian] refugees outside the territory of Israel, not only with the agreement of the Arabs, but with the involvement of the Arab states. Certainly, it would be much better if those refugees who are to be resettled [in the lower Jordan Valley] were settled not there but in the valley of the Euphrates and the Tigris; it would be even better if they would be moved to Argentine. But in view of the situation as it is, the alternative is not between their settlement here or on the shores of the Euphrates and Tigris, but between this beginning and not a shred of any beginning, to say nothing about our difficulty in appearing to undermine this possibility. We took a position, which the world has not accepted morally, although it came to terms with it politically – which is our rejection of the refugees’ return. I think we are morally fully justified in this refusal, but world public opinion has not morally digested this. But it is one thing for us to insist on this position and another to undermine the first attempt to settle these refugees. If this settlement is implemented, then this would be the first bursting of the [Arab] wall, since the Arab states would cooperate in the settling of refugees outside the borders of Israel, and that would eventually lead to the [settling of refugees along the] Euphrates and the Tigris.
Sixth (I am not sure of this development), this may pave the road to [Israeli access to] the Litani. For, given the background of the continuing war between us and the Arabs, given the incessant clashes, the snatching of water from each other, we shall certainly not get to the Litani’s water. But on the background of cooperation, we might perhaps reach this goal too. [- - -]
One of the things which is occupying my mind very, very much is whether this [regional water plan] might open up a chance for some change in our relations with the Arab states. It may be that the water plans are illusory, but if something really grows out of them, then I have no doubt that this would be a step forward. Whoever opposes the plan, whoever proves black on white that we should not budge and still remain justified, must, by all means, provide a political answer: What next? Relations now are deteriorating, and this business of relations with the Arab countries cannot stand still – it can advance for the better, or retreat to the worse. And the water plan is perhaps the only thing which might be a step forward. [- - -] Our consideration of the matter must be comprehensive, and that means that the political background and political possibilities should be an inseparable part of our calculations, of our prognosis. In this context political weight is transformed into economic weight and vice versa. And we should take them all together.
Somewhere during the debate someone said: “We have time!” I completely disagree. We have no time economically, no time in the field of building new settlements, no time politically. Matters are not becoming better. There is no assurance that the situation [of our relationship with] America is going to become better. When? Why? Moreover, I must rake my mind in search of steps to better our present situation. If something occurs which leads to cooperation with America, if it is not risky, if is beneficial in any way, then it is necessary to us, like air for breathing, to meet with and cooperate with the Arabs. There is no other bridge. Do you have a Russian bridge? An Indian one? Does Burma serve us as a bridge to the Arabs? You say you have time, but how do you know that meanwhile the situation will not worsen, and where are you going to be then?