This meeting was convened at my request for the purpose of hearing my report on the water issue, for in the last Political Committee’s discussion of this subject I promised to inform the Committee when a new phase was reached in the negotiations concerning the issue.
In spite of the fact that the Committee is a secret body and the subject to be discussed is secret, it was already reported in the press (1) that a meeting of the Committee was going to be held; (2) that it would be convened today; and (3) what subject would be discussed. I would like to say that in spite of this I would not go back on my promise, but let me say in advance that this meeting shall not arrive at any conclusions, for it is not necessary that it becomes known that the Party has accepted the results of the negotiations.
We have reached a stage in the negotiations in which the water plan is more or less acceptable, in which the picture of what can be achieved is more or less clear. There is no certainty whatsoever that the plan would be implemented, because the other side’s position, that of the Arabs, is not known. But in the negotiations, during the very long, exhausting and detailed struggle between us and the American group headed by Johnston conducting the talks, we have more or less reached a clear picture. I say more or less, because there are still several unclear points.
I assume you all remember there were three hard questions which are at the core of the issue: (1) the question of how the total amount of the two rivers’ – the Jordan’s and the Yarmuk’s – waters to be divided; (2) would the Kinneret, and to what extent, serve as a reservoir, and that not only for Israel; and (3) would, as a result of an agreement – if it is accepted at all [parties] – an international body be established and, practically or theoretically, would its activity amount to foreign intervention in the internal matters of Israel, thus violating her sovereignty.
Let me deal now with these three problems. A most intensive discussion was conducted regarding the assessment of the Jordan-Yarmuk waters. We have reached an agreed total of 1,o64 million m3. The division agreed upon is that these waters would be divided between four countries as follows: Lebanon is to receive from the Jordan’s tributary, the Hasbani, which starts flowing within its borders, about 40 million m3. Syria is to receive from both the Jordan and the Yarmuk – the Jordan’s tributary Banias flows first inside her territory – 132 million m3. Israel is to receive 366 million m3 from the Jordan and 25 million m3 from the Yarmuk, all in all 391 million m3, but possibly she would receive 15 million m3 more. The Kingdom of Jordan is to receive 406 million m3 from the Yarmuk and 100 million from the Jordan, all in all 506 million m3. The waters allotted to Jordan include 3 million m3 salinated waters of springs inside the Kinneret, unfit for agriculture, and these can be deducted from the 1,064 million m3. Percentage-wise, we are going to receive almost 38%, Jordan 46% (including the salinated waters), Syria and the Lebanon together 16%.
This amount of water doesn’t include Lake Hula’s waters, that is the waters saved due to the drying up of the lake, for otherwise they would have evaporated or been absorbed by the flora there. These waters amount to between 62 and 140 million m3. The “Main Plan” estimated these Hula waters at 62 million m3 and allotted them all to us. We kept claiming that these waters should be exempted form the general accounting, since they belong to us, because the drying up was done and financed by us. If we then add these waters to what we are going to receive from the general plan, our portion would grow to 42-43% and Jordan’s would decrease accordingly.
If we are to compare all this to the “Main Plan,” then according to it we would have received about 330 million m3 – against the 390 and the possible addition of 15 million m3 – but these would have included the Hula’s 62 million m3 and the 30 million m3 salinated waters and, what’s more, we wouldn’t have received the returning waters – those which would be used by the neighboring countries and eventually seep back to us. Thus, according to the “Main Plan” we would have received 220 million m3 as opposed to 390 or 406 million m3 [in the current negotiations].
Since I cited the number of 390 0r 406, I should immediately say that this doesn’t mean that these are all the waters we are going to get, for as I said already, one should add the Hula waters, estimated at 60 to 140 million m3, and in addition it can be certainly assumed that both Syria and Lebanon would not use all their portions, and whatever they don’t use becomes ours. Indeed, Johnston suggested that all these quantities would be referred as “up to”, while whatever remains unused would be put down as “belonging to Israel,” and our experts’ assumption is that at least 30 million m3 would thus be added to us. This means that we are approaching the total of 500 million m3, and indeed this total was assumed to be our portion since way back in the past.
I will now look at the subject of the use of the Kinneret. Here a long and exhausting struggle ensued throughout all months of negotiations, that is about a year and a half, on two levels simultaneously – the engineering-technological and the political-geopolitical. First we claimed that there was no vital necessity of the Kinneret serving as a reservoir for the Yarmuk’s waters, and second that this might involve territorial claims, demands for changing the borders and interventions by foreign countries, riparian or distant ones, and the establishing of some international control agency – to all of which we expressed our absolute refusal. We said that a conflict around these problems might destroy the whole plan, and thus we suggested that they should not be raised. What’s more, our engineers were ready to prove that it was not really necessary.
Well, I am happy to inform you that in the last round [of the negotiations], held a few weeks ago in the United States, in which two of our engineers present at this meeting participated, they succeeded in proving to the engineers of the opposite side – and I would like to say in parentheses that I deeply respect these Americans, who frankly admitted their technical conclusion which differed from that of the American political position – that there was no technical necessity of preserving the Yarmuk surplus waters in the Kinneret, for it is possible to do that by damming the Yarmuk.
However they said something which our engineers could not deny – that this might cost far more and could prove to be a very heavy burden.
What then is the situation? The Yarmuk is a river whose flow changes from year to year. Some years are rainy, others not, and from time to time a heavy cloud-breaking occurs there, so in order that its water are not wasted, in order that in a very rainy year, occurring once in twenty years, these big quantities of water would be preserved for the dry years, there is a need for storing of about 650-700 million m3. Initially they demanded that we store 450 million m3 in the Kinneret, which means storing an average of 80-100 annually. The Americans found themselves under double pressure. The Arabs vehemently opposed storing the Yarmuk waters in the Kinneret, claiming that this would put their water at the mercy of the Israelis. The Israelis did not want to accept this deposit lest they find themselves under demands by the owners or by a foreign controller. In the middle there stood the Americans faced with the financial burden. Two of our people, Teddy Kollek and Yaacov Herzog, were deeply and successfully involved in this matter. As for Johnston, he saw it as his task to unite three angles: one was Israel, her rights and demands; the second was the Arab states, their rights and demands; and the third was the American Congress as the financing body. The basic assumption is that ultimately the United States would have to finance the whole project, and the horrible monster threatening the State Department is the possibility of the Congress not approving the necessary plan’s budget, of the Congress accusing the Administration of exaggerating financial demands. Therefore, in order to be successful and have the budget approved by the Congress, it must be reasonable in the eyes of members of the Congressional Finance Committee, who would certainly compare the costs with similar costs of American water projects, asking how much one m3 or a reservoir costs. Thus the Americans must prove that they are saving as much money as possible, since the smaller the budget the cheaper would the cost of every m3. If it were possible to store al the Yarmuk surplus water in the Kinneret immediately, they would opt for it, because it would be the cheapest cost as far as they are concerned. However, they found themselves under strong Arab pressure, and as a result promised them the damming of a reservoir on the Yarmuk for 150 million m3. This would cost them $20 million and now they are prepared to increase the reservoir up to 225 million m3, but there still remains a huge gap of 650-700 million m3.
The Americans have decreased their demand of water storage in the Kinneret from 450 to 300 million m3, but if we calculate that the Yarmuk reservoir would store 225 million m3 and the Kinneret 300, there would still 100 million m3 of the Yarmuk lost annually, and their interest is to decrease this quantity to the minimum.
We are thus faced with the question: should we acquiesce in the storing of 300 million m3 in the Kinneret for the sake of the Kingdom of Jordan, which means that on the average of 80 million m3 of the Yarmuk would enter the Kinneret annually? The annual quantity lost would then be 30-35 million m3.
What are our arguments against this plan? We claim that if we agree to store Yarmuk waters in the Kinneret, we shall consequently give up our need to store Jordan waters in it. There is an unequivocal principle that the Kinneret is to store first Jordan’s waters, and thus during a very rainy year, in which huge quantities flow in the Jordan and the Yarmuk, we would not be able to store those 300 million m3 of the Yarmuk waters. But the situation is even more complex, for in a rainy year it may well be that the volume of Yarkon River would significantly increase and, if so, we would be able to use these waters and preserve the increased volume of the Jordan in the Kinneret. However, if the Yarmuk’s water are stored there, we would have to build pools for the Jordan surplus waters.
The Americans’ answer to our argument is that, if such circumstances arise, they would help us financially. Such a promise was somewhat given. Which brings me directly to the third point of the mediating body, or the body which would have some say in streamlining the implementation of the whole plan and which would be entitled to impose a decision in cases of disagreements among the parties to the plan.
Their proposals are these: A body composed of three world-renowned engineers would be established. We and the other side would agree on a certain institution which would make up a list of candidates for that body. It can be the President of the United States or the UN Secretariat at the Hague International Court or any neutral country. From this list we would chose one member and the Arab states would choose one, and these two would choose the third member either from the said list or from anywhere else.
What will this body do? First of all, they agree that if we agree in principle to the storing in the Kinneret of 300 million m3 of the Yarmuk waters, this would not be included in the first phase of the plan’s implementation; it would remain pending for a few years, say, till 1959 or 1960. Meanwhile, experience would accumulate and clarify matters. Here there are several possibilities. One is that the Jordanians would not apply pressure, but demand that such storing should not take place at all. Another is that it might turn out that the Jordanians would not be able to use all the waters accruing to them, since they can use the water only in the Jordan Valley and not on higher ground. We are also convinced that their claims regarding their arable land to be irrigated are exaggerated. They are also digging wells in the Jordan Valley and if they find big quantities of water their need for storage would diminish.
The second task of this body of three would be to nominate a “water master” who would constantly oversee the division of the waters.
It is assumed that because no direct agreement over the plan could be signed between us and the Arabs for the time being, each of the four parties would sign a declaration before some American institution to the effect that it would not put forward any territorial demand based on the plan. Also, in order to prevent any Jordanian intervention in the Kinneret based on the fact that they will receive a certain amount of water from it, a pipeline would be built from the Kinneret up to the Jordanian border and they will receive the Kinneret waters through it.