Pakistan Reaction: Something dark is growing in our own backyard




This is the first of two parts on Pakistan and terror. Next week: Anti-Semitism and Pakistan.


“Abhi India me pat’ta bhi nahi hil sakega.”

“Now even a leaf will need permission to stir in India,” remarked R, a young Indian woman at an expat dinner off London’s Baker Street on the Saturday after the Mumbai bombing. She was deep in discussion with three Pakistanis and nine fellow Indians about the expected tightening in security measures after the tragedy.

“It will be like the U.S. after 9/11,” she said, as heads nodded in agreement around the room. One of the Pakistanis opened her mouth but shut it quickly.

For Pakistanis at home, the fear is more palpable. It is not necessarily fear of immediate violence, but of something much darker growing in our very own backyard. Initially, the tragedy had seemed somewhat distant, but then came the damning reports that the terrorists used a boat to travel from Karachi. If Complete coverage of Mumbai Chabad attackproven true, this confirms yet again what the people of Karachi (and all over Pakistan) have known for a long time, that this city is being used as a base for terror groups. The long-term implications are terrifying. In the short term, Pakistan is worried that, as in 2001, when the Kashmir-based Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) — the same group being named for the Mumbai terror — attacked the Indian parliament, the two countries could be brought to the brink of war.

Caution vs. the Blame Game

The Mumbai attacks made front-page news across Pakistan in the English-, Urdu- and regional-language media. All political statements condemning the merciless assault were carried, and Pakistan was one of the first countries to make its stance clear.

However, much of the media debates were fed by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement that it was evident the group that carried out the attacks was based outside the country, and that India would act against any neighboring country that allowed itself to be used as a base for attacking India. These words raised alarm bells all over Pakistan and in a way have provided a case study of the divisions between the English and Urdu media. Also important was that President Asif Ali Zardari denied any Pakistani role in the attacks, pledged action against any group found to be involved, and advised New Delhi not to “over-react.”

The timing of the Mumbai attacks is extremely suspicious to some analysts. It just so happens that whenever the government of Pakistan reaches out to work on peace with India, something terrible happens to sabotage the process. Sabotage may be a strong word to use here, but consider Taliban expert Ahmed Rashid’s words. The author of “Descent Into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia” said on Nov. 4, just weeks before the attacks, that he would hardly be surprised if something were to happen to derail the talks initiated by Zardari. He gave examples of how the military had sabotaged diplomatic efforts for peace with India in the past: Benazir Bhutto met Rajiv Gandhi in her first term, following which problems in Kashmir flared up; Nawaz Sharif met with A.B. Vajpayee, following which then-President Pervez Musharraf went into Kargil, a border hot spot with the two countries.

Thus, there are sections of society and the media that harbor a general mistrust, and help perpetuate it between the two countries, despite the fact that the two were one nation for hundreds of years until 1947. Some sections of the Urdu media exemplify this stance. They condemned the loss of life, but nonetheless fed into the blame game, an old tack. Their opinions ranged from the alarmist to the paranoid. Jang, one of the more widely read Urdu newspapers, warned in an editorial that Pakistan should be careful. But the editorial’s use of the word “propaganda” against Muslims to malign Pakistan had an old-school ring to it. The same line was taken by daily Urdu newspaper Nawa-i-Waqt, saying in its editorial that this was part of a “great game” by America, India and Israel against Pakistan.

Daily Urdu Ummat went so far as to indirectly support the “Deccan Mujahideen” by saying that their demands for the independence of Kashmir were “proof” enough that India could not “oppress” its Muslim populations for long. Urdu daily Khabrain chose to extrapolate on the earlier arrest of one Indian army lieutenant colonel for conspiracy by saying that India needed to get its own house in order. Similarly, daily Urdu newspaper Express felt that the “Indian rulers ought to change their thinking of hatred towards Pakistan,” urging them to look in their own backyard for terrorists hiding there, a reference to the time when Hindu extremists attacked a church in Mumbai.

This is not to say that one should dismiss the possibility of homegrown terrorism for India. But as some sections of the English media demonstrated, in a much more cautious, balanced and well-informed tone, there is another way of factoring that into the analysis of the situation rather than just by being accusing. For example, Dr. Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a well-respected political and defense analyst, pointed out in an op-ed piece in Daily Times that the blame game between India and Pakistan serves the political agendas of both hard-line Hindus and hard-line Muslims, who have always opposed normalization of India-Pakistan relations.

“India will soon learn what Pakistan already knows: It is not easy to control shadowy militant groups, especially when they cultivate support in sections of society,” he wrote.

Similarly, in its editorial, Dawn — one of the most widely circulated and oldest English newspapers — cautioned that those implicated in previous attacks in India have been homegrown Muslim militants. “In addition, Hindu militants have been linked to attacks targeting Muslims and Christians in India. What this all clearly adds up to is that India has a massive problem of domestic terrorism that it appears ill equipped to respond to…. But Pakistan cannot afford to be smug as India suffers. We have a grave problem of militancy, and the attacks in Mumbai are a grim reminder of the endless possibilities of terror.” These voices, mostly from the English media, acknowledge the problem, but instead of perpetuating insular rhetoric colored by anti-Semitic bias, urge cooperation; opinion based on historical trends and emerging facts; and transborder, regional solutions — given that the terrorists operate globally.

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Photo: The Chabad House in Mumbai (before.) Next page: Chabad House interior (after)

Israel eyes regional peace push, prepares for U.S. talks with Iran


With the governments in Washington and Jerusalem set to change, Israeli leaders are reassessing policy in two key areas: Middle East peacemaking and Iran.

On peacemaking, both President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are coming out strongly in favor of a new regional approach and Prime Minister-designate Tzipi Livni is listening.

On Iran, the Foreign Ministry — the government department Livni heads — is preparing for the possibility of U.S. dialogue with Tehran, especially if Barack Obama becomes president. If that is the turn U.S. policy takes, Israel will try to convince the new U.S. president to insist on one condition: That Iran suspend uranium enrichment before talks begin.

For some time now, Peres has been arguing that it was a mistake for Israel to conduct separate negotiations for separate deals with the Syrians and the Palestinians. Instead, he says, Israel should be negotiating with all the Arab states and the Arab League for a comprehensive regional peace.

In separate negotiations, Israel often makes major concessions in return for relatively little, Peres says. For example, Israel’s opening of peace talks with Syria already has resulted in the rehabilitation of the Syrian regime in the international arena, but Israel has received nothing in return.

But a regional approach could enable greater flexibility in solving problems and deliver a real end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, Peres says.

Behind the scenes, in meetings with Arab and Western leaders, Peres quietly has been promoting the regional approach. Peres went public with this strategy only in his mid-September address to the U.N. General Assembly in New York, when he appealed directly to Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah by declaring that Israel was ready to discuss the 2002 Arab plan for regional peace.

In a meeting this week with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Sharm el-Sheik, Peres is expected to outline his ideas in more detail.

Although Peres serves in a ceremonial position — Israel’s presidency comes with virtually no executive powers — the Israeli president’s actions carry weight. This is partly because of Peres’ reputation and experience but more because his moves on the regional front have been coordinated closely with Livni.

Barak also has picked up this approach. He says Israel needs to come up with a regional peace initiative of its own and present it to the Arab world. The Arab and Israeli initiatives together then could create a basis for a serious regional peace dialogue.

He points out that Israeli and Arab moderates share concerns about containing Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. And he agrees with Peres on the need for a more comprehensive regional approach, particularly since the separate talks with Syria and the Palestinians have made little headway.

The advantages of the regional approach are manifold: Israel could make trade-offs on and between key issues. It could bring countries such as Lebanon, Syria and Jordan into a solution of the Palestinian refugee issue. Israel would have the added assurance of knowing that any agreement would be underpinned by the entire Arab world. In addition, the Jewish state could negotiate a credible end to the Arab-Israeli conflict precisely because the entire Arab world would be signed on to it.

But how would regional peacemaking actually work? Would the framework be too large and cumbersome? Would the more radical voices on the Arab side set the tone?

On the face of it, it would seem more logical for regional peace to follow agreements with Syria and the Palestinians, not produce them. The way Israeli officials see it, regional talks could be held in parallel with negotiations with Syria and the Palestinians, not instead of them.

Whether or not the regional effort leaves the ground, the Foreign Ministry is considering other bilateral peace initiatives, including a long-term nonbelligerency pact with Lebanon.

The aim would be to demarcate the Israel-Lebanon border, solve the dispute over the Shebaa Farms area, set in motion a mechanism for military coordination and restrict Hezbollah weaponry and deployment. Fruitful parallel talks with Syria could make something along these lines feasible.

In addition, Israeli strategists assume that whoever wins the U.S. election in November will seek to talk to Tehran, though Obama might do so without preconditions.

For months, the Foreign Ministry, Mossad, the National Security Council and the Israel Atomic Energy Commission have been discussing a range of possible Israeli responses.

The emergent consensus is that Israel will press the next U.S. president not to engage in open talks with Tehran until Iran suspends its uranium enrichment program. This is in line with a current proposal by the United States, Russia, Great Britain, France and China, all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and Germany that Iran stops the enriching process, receives a package of incentives for doing so and only then may talks start.

In any event, Livni seems quite willing to give dialogue a chance, as long as it is not used by the Iranians as a smoke screen to push ahead with their nuclear program.

Yitzhak Ben Yisrael, probably the Knesset member closest to Livni, said bluntly that if the world does not prevent Iran from going nuclear, Israel will have no choice but to take military action.

But, he said, Israel would much prefer Iran be stopped by peaceful means, and he believes there is still time. By his count, Iran is about three years away from producing a nuclear weapon — two years from fully mastering its uranium enrichment technology and then another year from producing enough fissionable material to manufacture a bomb.

This seems to contradict a late September report to the Cabinet by Brig. Gen. Yossi Baidatz, head of research in military intelligence, that said that Iran was mastering enrichment technology, already had produced one-third of the fissionable material needed for a bomb and that the Western world was blind to the urgency of the situation.

Despite Baidatz’s alarm bells, Livni now seems ready to give fresh, focused diplomacy a chance. Talking to Iran while it continues to enrich uranium would, in her view, be a disaster. But getting Iran to suspend enrichment activities while talks are carried out could be the best way forward.

The Dead Sea is dying and it’s a ‘man-made disaster’


EIN GEDI, Israel (JTA)—The beach at the Ein Gedi Spa at the Dead Sea would seem like an ideal place for a little R&R amid the frenzy of modern Israel.

Set in the quiet of the desert, it has stunning views of Jordan’s mountains and its therapeutic waters reputedly do wonders for the complexion.

There’s only one problem at this beach: The sea is gone.

In its place are empty lifeguard towers and abandoned beach umbrellas lodged in the parched earth that make a mockery of the Dead Sea’s quiet retreat.

The sea actually still exists, but it’s smaller, shallower and much more distant than it once was—some 160 feet from the original beach built at Ein Gedi. The Dead Sea is shrinking because nearly every source of water that feeds into this iconic tourist destination has been cut off, diverted or polluted over the last half century.

“This is a completely man-made disaster,” says Gidon Bromberg, the Israel director of Friends of the Earth Middle East, an international environmental group. “There is nothing natural about this.”

A tram now shuttles visitors from the abandoned beach at Ein Gedi to the new beach, which sits at more than 1,300 feet below sea level. Thirty years ago this beach was submerged under water. In 10 years it likely will be dry, too, and the visitors’ ramp again will have to be extended to reach the sea.

By 2025, the sea is expected to be at 1,440 feet below sea level.

The shrinking of the Dead Sea has become an issue of grave concern for environmentalists, industries that produce Dead Sea-related products and Israel’s tourism sector, which worries that the visitors who come here from all over the world will disappear along with the sea.

To environmentalists, the shrinking of the sea is an environmental disaster that left unchecked could devastate the region in the coming decades.

The sea’s retreat already has spawned thousands of dangerous sinkholes. Created by retreating groundwater washing away salt deposits that had supported a surface layer of sand, the sinkholes have decimated beaches, nature reserves and agricultural fields in the area.

Future development along the northern rim of the sea has been suspended indefinitely, and the sinkholes have taken a toll on the area’s roads. Route 90, the Israeli highway that runs north-south along the Dead Sea’s western shore, has had to be rebuilt several times because of sinkholes opening up in its path.

In the meantime, the shifting groundwater has wreaked havoc with the natural oases and springs near the sea. Some natural habitats have been destroyed, and with them the feeding grounds of indigenous wildlife. Ornithologists say the annual migration of birds to this area—the third-largest migration in the world—has begun to taper off.

Perhaps most significantly for the people who live in the region, the economic consequences of the sea’s retreat have been staggering for agriculture and tourism.

“This has cost us more than $25 million since 1995, when the sinkholes started opening up,” Merav Ayalon, a spokeswoman for Kibbutz Ein Gedi, the largest Israeli town at the Dead Sea, said.

The kibbutz has had to close its resort village—though it still operates guest houses—abandon its groves of date palms and forego any expansion plans because it is virtually locked in now by mountains or unsafe, shifting ground.

Farther south, at the cluster of hotels on the Israeli side of the sea, hotels built decades ago along the Dead Sea’s shores have preserved their beaches only thanks to an artificial pool of sea water. The pool, which is connected to the Dead Sea, is maintained by Dead Sea Works, the massive mineral extraction plant whose operations have accelerated the sea’s disappearance through wholesale evaporation of water.

If not for the artificial pool, the hotels would be in the desert, since the southern portion of the Dead Sea no longer exists. Though visitors cannot tell that the hotels’ beaches are artificially maintained, hoteliers say they fear potential tourists are deterred from coming to the region because they think the sea’s retreat has left the hotels high and dry.

“Tourists from abroad don’t know exactly where the sea is located and where the sinkholes are, so they don’t come as much anymore,” said Avi Levy, who used to be the general manager of the Crowne Plaza Dead Sea but now works at the franchise’s hotel in Tel Aviv. “Also, I think, there is antagonism that we are allowing such a valuable site as the Dead Sea to be destroyed.”

Agricultural industries in Israel, Jordan and Syria siphon water from the rivers that used to feed into the Dead Sea, diverting the water flow for agricultural use. This, along with the dumping of sewage by these countries and the Palestinian Authority, has turned the Jordan River, the sea’s main tributary, from the voluminous flow described in the Bible to a muddy, polluted dribble that doesn’t even reach the Dead Sea anymore during the summer months.

In addition, companies like Dead Sea Works are removing water from the sea at a rate of about 150 million cubic meters per year to get at the lucrative minerals beneath the water. The minerals are used to produce chemical products for export such as potash and magnesium chloride.

Potash can be used to make glass, soap and fertilizer, and magnesium chloride can be used in the manufacture of foodstuffs and roadway deicing products.

The work of these companies has turned what once was the southern portion of the sea into a massive industrial site.

At the time of Israel’s founding in 1948, about 1.4 billion cubic meters of water per year flowed into the Dead Sea. That total has shrunk to 100 million cubic meters, much of it polluted. Today the only fresh water the sea gets is from underground springs and rainwater. With inadequate fresh water, the sea has become more salty and oleaginous.

Scientists estimate that the Dead Sea needs at least 650 million cubic meters of water per year in order to stabilize over the next two decades.

Short of a major change in water-use policy, which environmentalists say is imperative, the Dead Sea will continue to shrink at its current rate of 3.2 to 3.5 feet per year until it reaches an equilibrium in 100 to 200 years at some 1,800 feet below sea level, experts say.

There are two main ideas for stabilizing the Dead Sea.

Environmentalists want to restore flow to the sea from the Jordan River. But that would require a sharp reduction in the use of Jordan River water for agricultural and domestic consumption, as well as cooperation between the Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians and Jordanians. At this point, neither seems likely.

The other idea is to construct a canal to bring salt water to the Dead Sea from the Red Sea, some 125 miles to the south. Championed by Israeli President Shimon Peres and Israeli real estate magnate Isaac Tshuva, among others, this plan envisions the construction of up to 200,000 new hotel rooms and the transformation of the desert along the channel’s route into an Israeli-Jordanian “peace valley.”

Notwithstanding the enormous financial costs of such an enterprise—$3 billion to $5 billion—scientists say bringing salt water to a sea that heretofore has been fed only by fresh water has unknown risks.

“A decision like this cannot be made without checking the ecological impact on the environment,” said Noam Goldstein, project manager at Dead Sea Works, which has made a fortune extracting minerals like potash, table salt and bromide from the Dead Sea. “It’s possible that with a canal the sea will turn brown or red. It’s possible it will stink because of the introduction of new chemical and biological substances into the water.”

The World Bank is conducting a $14 million study into the practicalities of the channel, dubbed the Red-to-Dead Canal.

For the time being, no solution to the problem of the Dead Sea has moved beyond the review stage. Meanwhile, with the Holy Land facing its worst drought in 80 years, the sea continues to disappear.

Good Morning America visited the Dead Sea in 2006

 

Red-Dead canal idea stirs controversy


HERZLIYA, Israel (JTA) – On aerial photographs, the shrinking Dead Sea juts into the surrounding desert landscape like a blue index finger.

As part of the effort to prevent this finger from becoming a mere smudge on the map by 2050, the World Bank is conducting a $14 million study into the practicalities of building a channel to bring water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, which is shrinking rapidly due to evaporation and upstream water diversion.

Proponents say the plan could rescue the Dead Sea while supplying desalinated water and hydroelectric power to the region.

“We will have to balance the technological, environmental and economic issues at the heart of this complex study,” Peter Darley, the team leader of the feasibility part of the World Bank study, said at a public hearing last week in Herzliya.

Similar public hearings were held earlier in the week in Amman, Jordan, and the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The governments of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, all of which stand to benefit from such a project, had asked the World Bank to fund and oversee the study on the implications of building a 112-mile long conveyance system—either a canal or pipeline—to bring the water to the Dead Sea.

The idea has come under intense fire from Israeli environmentalists and water experts, who argue that more time than the year currently allotted needs to be devoted to studying the possible scientific consequences of the project.

They cite the potential environmental damages the project could cause, whether it be to the fragile coral reefs of the Red Sea or the unique Dead Sea ecosystem. They say alternatives must be studied in tandem by independent-minded international consultants—not representatives of the three governments involved, as is currently proposed.

“It’s like asking a cat to guard a bowl of milk,” said Gidon Bromberg, the Israel director of Friends of the Earth Middle East.

Bromberg and other critics of the canal plan charge that the Israeli, Jordanian and P.A. governments are interested in the canal solution because the international community might foot the bill for it as a massive desalinization or peace project.

Alex McPhail, the program manager at the World Bank who is overseeing the overall study of the project, says the bank is being methodical and scientific in its approach. He noted that the World Bank’s approach consists of three parts: a feasibility study, an environmental impact study and a report on alternative solutions.

“It’s an environmental question mark and that’s why we are doing these studies,” McPhail said. “It’s very important that we examine and understand all the potential environmental implications.”

Proponents of the canal project argue that the project could be a one-stop solution for replenishing the waters of the Dead Sea, generating energy, and providing drinking and agricultural water for Jordan, Israel and the Palestinians.

The project also is being touted as a rare symbol of regional cooperation.

“There is an interest internationally in saving the Dead Sea and this could also help bring water to the region that badly needs it,” said Uri Schor, a spokesman for the Israeli Water Authority.

Addressing environmentalists’ concerns, he added, “That is why everything is being checked out first.”

“We need to check all the options. If the project is deemed unsuitable, then we won’t do it. But if there are no problems found, then why shouldn’t we pursue it?”

Some developers see the project dubbed the Red-Dead Canal as a potential boon.

Isaac Tshuva, the Israeli real estate magnate, has answered President Shimon Peres’ vision for a so-called Peace Valley to be built along the canal—a corridor of shimmering skyscrapers, casinos, man-made lakes and 200,000 hotel rooms. That’s more hotels rooms than currently exist in all of Israel. The vision is for a new tourist and industrial mecca that planners hope would draw as many as 3 million Israelis to live in the region.

The project, whose scale would be unprecedented in Israel, has been described as Las Vegas meets Dubai in the Arava Desert.

Its detractors roundly condemn it as an environmental nightmare.

In 2007, when Peres was Israel’s minister in charge of Negev and Galilee development, a government decision declared the Peace Valley project and the canal as national projects.

At the time, some environmentalists warned that political and business interests were being mixed too closely at the potential expense of the environment.

Baruch Spiegel, Peres’ adviser for regional affairs, rejects any such notions.

The government made its decision to prioritize the project because of Israel’s water crisis and the shrinking of the Dead Sea, he told JTA. The Dead Sea’s water levels are dropping by about 3.2 to 3.5 feet per year.

“This is a major vision of the president of Israel—to use water and energy as a catalyst for peace and stability,” Spiegel said, emphasizing that environmental concerns will come first and any development that follows will have to adhere to strict guidelines.

“All options are being examined very carefully,” he said. “But without a project, things will get worse.”

Some Israeli and Arab environmentalists say the Jordan River, historically the main source for the Dead Sea’s water, should be rehabilitated rather than undertaking such a complex and expensive project as the canal. They also suggest reforms in the chemical industries on both sides of the sea, which are blamed for contributing to the Dead Sea’s dwindling water levels.

Among the environmentalists’ main concerns is that mixing Dead Sea and Red Sea water could damage the Dead Sea’s unique ecosystem, leading to growth of algae that could change the color and buoyancy of the water. That would also damage the tourism industry that has sprung up around the Dead Sea in both Israel and Jordan.

Others note that if the salty marine water from a canal or pipeline were to leak, it could seep into the ground water and contaminate local aquifers. There are also concerns that the coral reefs of the Red Sea could be harmed by the pumping out of so much of its water.

“I’m worried,” Yehoshua Shkedi, chief scientist of Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority said at last week’s hearing in Herzliya. “I have a feeling not enough money or time is being given to research to answer major questions. Good studies have to be done.”

For Gundi Shahal, a member of Kibbutz Ein Gedi, which sits near the banks of the Dead Sea, the questions about the canal plan are not just academic.

“Who will take responsibility for the impact on our lives, livelihoods and what we call home?” she asked at last week’s hearing.

Save the Dead Sea by restoring the Jordan River, not a canal to the Red Sea


TEL AVIV (JTA)—Environmentalists in Israel and the Middle East have a clear vision on how to save the Dead Sea, which has been losing 850 million cubic meters per year thanks to water diversion upstream and mineral extraction at the sea.

This vision sees fresh water flowing again into the Dead Sea from the Jordan River, arresting the sea’s declining water levels. It envisions Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian communities that live along the Jordan River benefiting collectively from a revitalized economy based on shared water and sustainable tourism, including Christian pilgrimages to holy sites on the rehabilitated river.

This vision, however, could not be more different from that of the World Bank, Israeli President Shimon Peres or Israeli billionaire Yitzhak Tshuva.

Their solution is to build a canal from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, which they say also will counter water scarcity in the region and bolster peace ties. Along the route of the canal, in the Arava Valley, Peres and Tshuva have proposed building artificial lakes, casinos, Dubai-style skyscrapers and 200,000 hotel rooms.

Ignoring the environmental impact of their plan is a grave mistake.

The Red-to-Dead canal plan places the fragile coral reefs of the Jordanian city of Akaba and the Israeli city of Eilat at risk. Pumping 2 billion cubic meters of water out of the Red Sea could alter water temperatures in the Red Sea Gulf.

Transporting seawater in a pipeline or open canal through the Arava Valley, an area where earthquakes regularly occur, likely would lead to spills and the salinization of groundwater. And the development ideas Peres and Tshuva harbor for the route of the canal would transform the unique desert landscape of the rift valley in the Arava into a Las Vegas-type strip mall.

The canal plan jeopardizes the Dead Sea as well. Scientists are now vocal in their concerns that mixing sea water with the unique minerals of the Dead Sea could lead to the growth of algae and turn the Dead Sea’s waters from deep blue to reddish brown.

By contrast, rehabilitating the Jordan River would strengthen existing but all-but-forgotten Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley by bringing an influx of tourists and investment to the struggling region. New infrastructure would have to be built to accommodate the tourists, helping revitalize a region that is home to 350,000 people.

Rehabilitating the river would not require restoring its historical flow of 1.3 billion cubic meters per year. We can make do with just a quarter of that, 350 million.

To do so, however, we have to stop drawing so much water out of the Jordan’s tributaries, including Lake Kinneret.

How? Studies show that Israel could reduce domestic water consumption by 30 percent by promoting a combination of policy directives, from education for water conservation to pricing reforms. Rainwater harvesting, waterless toilets and low-water-use appliances need to be supported by legislation and grants. Domestic water measures would save some 200 million cubic meters of water per year.

The balance would have to come from reforms in the agriculture sector, which consumes about 500 million cubic meters of fresh water per year. Water authorities and environmentalists already agree that Israeli agriculture should be based solely on recycling treated sewage water. But while the water authorities want the savings to go toward satisfying increased urban demand for water, environmentalists want to see the saved water returned to nature, including the Jordan River.

The vision of Friends of the Earth Middle East is to decouple population and economic growth from increased freshwater demand. Our region, not Europe, should be the model for ingenuity in water conservation.

As for the Dead Sea, we believe the sea’s water level should be stabilized, not restored to its historical levels, last seen around 1930. Some 850 million cubic meters of water would be needed per year for stabilization.

If the aforementioned water reforms are applied in Israel and Jordan, a revived Jordan River could supply 500 million cubic meters of that, solving 60 percent of the problem. The 350 million balance must come from the mineral extraction companies at the Dead Sea, which are responsible for 40 percent of the water that leaves the Dead Sea every year.

It’s time that the Israeli and Jordanian publics demand that the enormous profits being earned by these companies—Dead Sea Works in Israel and the Arab Potash Company in Jordan—be invested in new technology to extract minerals without evaporating so much Dead Sea water.

The demise of the Dead Sea is man-made. Environmentalists should not be condemned for insisting on looking at the causes of the demise: upstream water diversion and mineral extraction.

Our vision is based on water sharing, water conservation technologies, sustainable agriculture and sustainable tourism. The Peres-Tshuva-World Bank vision may lead to ecological disaster.

Gidon Bromberg is the Israeli director of Friends of the Earth Middle East, www.foeme.org, a regional environmental organization that brings Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians to work together in a common effort in search of peace and sustainability.