The conflict vs. cooperation paradox: Fighting over or sharing of Palestinian-Israeli groundwater?

Mark Zeitoun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


While there has been practically no evidence offered of a causal link between water and armed conflict, the real benefits of inter-state cooperation over water issues tend to be over-emphasized. Along the west bank of the Jordan River there is ample evidence of both cooperation and conflict occurring simultaneously—an apparent contradiction referred to as the conflict vs. cooperation paradox. This paper attempts to explain the paradox by examination of two features not commonly considered by water conflict analysts: a) an under-consideration of the dynamics and levels of conflict, and, b) a narrow focus on the very broad, complex and nuanced political context within which the competition for water exists.

Through examination of the different levels of conflict, this paper shows that the absence of war does not mean the absence of conflict, nor does it mean that competing riparians are cooperating. The political context is explored through two theories from international relations. Regime theory is employed to show that far from one of its intended goals of allowing for proper water resources management, the structure of the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee allows Israel to maintain an ‘Imposed-Order regime’ while maintaining a veil over the conflict. Application of Security theory shows how water issues are readily ‘securitized’ and how the asymmetric power relations between the two sides results in the conflict being contained, and lingering unresolved. By adding insight and clarity into the Palestinian-Israeli water conflict, this paper intends to add nuance to our understanding of transboundary water conflicts in general.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-120
Number of pages16
JournalWater International
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2007

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