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International water agreements are often used as mechanisms for fostering and institutionalizing political cooperation. Yet, since water resources in many places are being driven to the edge of their natural limits, a number of international organizations have formulated legal principles and norms aimed at helping states resolve water disputes. While states have been urged to adopt these principles, it seems that they often embrace other less-traditional alternatives that may better address their own political needs. The aim of this study is to examine why states fail or decline to adopt several of the general principles of customary law formulated by these international organizations and to investigate how creative language is often adapted instead. The principles examined include basin-wide development and management; the appropriation of water according to clearly defined water rights; and joint management of shared water resources. The study focuses on three contemporary case studies centering on Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Territories. It concludes that the negotiation over the legal terminology of agreements between these parties exemplifies the power struggle and asymmetries between Israel and its neighbors. Much of the deadlock in the negotiations was resolved when the parties moved from their adversarial positions to address the underlying interests, in which a compromise was forged that captured elements of international law while still addressing the needs of the dominant riparian. These results indicate that under asymmetric settings, there is a need for creative legal discourse rather than an entrenchment of international water law, which has found to be a recipe for failure.

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University of California


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Alberto Garrido & Ayman Rabi

Book Title

Managing Water in the 21st Century: Challenges and Opportunities

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