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The Politics of Unilateral Environmentalism: Wastewater Treatment along the Israeli-Palestinian Border

IWRA World Water Congress 2008 Montpellier France
5. Water Governance and Water Security

AbstractWhile there are many studies that acknowledge the importance of cooperative institutions to govern transboundary climatic variability (e.g., drought and floods), coping with political variability (e.g., regime change, civil war) has to date not been sufficiently analyzed. Such attention is warranted, because many environmental services are more vulnerable to political and economic transfrontier variability than to physical and climatic variability. Rather than focusing on cooperative adaptation strategies to absorb physical variability, this paper examines modes of governance structures for adaptation to address political variability. In particular, it scrutinizes the adaptation strategies of Israel to undertake river and groundwater rehabilitation in response to continued runoff of wastewater from Palestinian territories during periods of political variability. The findings show that when political changes are abrupt, disorganized and turbulent, the foundations for employing cooperative solutions to address variability are undermined. The resulting non-cooperation combined with a fragile ecosystem led to Israel adopting a position of unilateral environmentalism. Unilateral environmentalism has allowed Israel to further restore its groundwater and rivers and insulate itself from future political changes that might impinge on its river rehabilitations efforts. Yet while safeguarding the country's political and environmental interests, unilateral environmentalism entails inevitable risk and high costs, such as opportunities for free riders due to its geographical constraints, and it exacerbates international tension. Thus it may become counterproductive in the long term. Under non-cooperative conditions, this study stresses the need to look away from cooperative adaptation solutions that fit the regime box most neatly to other solutions that can work in the absence of cooperation.
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