a scarce commodity in Lebanon, especially in the provinces of the Biqa` and
the South which are almost solely dependent on the Litani River and its
tributaries. These provinces, Lebanon's largest, share a number of common
attributes. They are the country's most rural provinces and its principal
agricultural regions. They are also the least-developed and most
impoverished of the provinces, and in them are found the largest
concentrations of Lebanon's Shi`a population. In many ways also, these
provinces fell outside the political and economic mainstream of the First
the Lebanon of the First Republic that emerged after 1943 was basically as
confessional society/economy which grew as a natural outcome of the
extensive intersection of interests between Maronite bureaucrats and Sunni
trading families. The former group was primarily interested in developing
and securing a stable source of public finance which, in the context of the
prevailing conditions and structure of the Lebanese economy, could only be
based on custom duties on foreign imports. Much of this activity was
controlled primarily by a handful of very powerful Sunni trading families in
the coastal cities of Beirut, Tripoli, and Sidon. These traders saw their
interests best served by a government restricting itself to building an
efficient social infrastructure and maintaining a policy environment
favorable to free trade.
intersection of interests manifested itself politically in the National
Pact. It also manifested itself, perhaps in a less obvious way but no less
significantly, in an implicit economic social contract that supplemented the
political accord. The terms of this implicit economic contract called for
the public sector to invest heavily in building an extensive infrastructure
of trade routes, ports, airports warehouses, and communication networks, and
to restrict its activity in promoting competing commodity-producing sectors
(agriculture and manufacturing) or regions which could undermine the
dominance and the free flow of imports. It also called for a pro-free trade,
pro-business policy environment with minimal government interference,
including no income or profit taxes, bank secrecy laws, and a free foreign
exchange market. Other sects and regions were virtually cut out of this
framework and the prosperity it engendered.
current economic predicament is rooted in the unmanaged mercurial successes
experienced between the 1950s and the mid-1970s; and in a less obvious way,
in the confessional structure of the society and economy. The civil war
brought in its wake a massive destruction of infrastructure and productive
capital and resulted in great human loss and displacement of populations. It
also brought the end to the implicit social contract of 1943.
Lebanese today face the challenge not only of reconstructing their economy,
but also of reconstituting their society and polity. There is a need for a
new social contract. This paper assumes that such a contract must call for a
more balanced economy in which commodity-producing sectors would moderate
the lopsided, services-biased production structure of the First Republic,
and in which the disenfranchised regions and sects in Lebanon would be
represented more equitably
the system and co-opted into the mainstream of society and the economy. This
is, perhaps, a tall order for a society and economy still reeling from the
impact of civil war and occupation. There is no alternative, however, to a
careful reassessment of Lebanon's emerging comparative advantage, and the
exploitation of its human and natural resources.
are meager at best and the international and Arab environments are not
conducive at present for massive aid to Lebanon. The Lebanese will have to
make do on their own. This paper argues that, within this perspective,
agriculture and industry will likely play new and revitalizing roles in the
south, the northeast, and other underdeveloped regions, if they become the
focus of the development effort. The development of the Litani River basin
will figure highly in this strategy. Equally important, however, is the fact
that development of the Litani basin might very well be a necessary action
to thwart Israeli designs over this entirely Lebanese water system.
The Litani in Context
a natural resource that is usually non-tradable and has no market value. For
geo-climatic reasons, water is a scarce resource in most Middle Eastern
countries. This problem is most acute in the rapidly developing state of
Israel. Israel obtains over one third of its water supply from the occupied
West Bank and Gaza Strip. Due to its scarcity and strong association with
economic development, the question of water takes on a whole new dimension
in the hostile political environment of the Middle East. It has been argued
that Israel was in part motivated by its lack of resources, especially
water, when it initiated the 1967 War (Stauffer, 1985; Naff and Matson
1984). Since then, Israel has become dependent on the West Bank's water
resources, and its occupation of southern Lebanon up to the western bend of
the Litani River is raising questions and charges similar to those raised 25
years ago when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
a general consensus among hydrologists and water planners in Israel that the
country is currently developing all of its replenishable water stock.
Indeed, the gap between water supply and demand is widening. It is therefore
imperative to analyze the factors which led to this situation. This is done
by looking first at demographic and cultural factors, and then at the
ideological factors which influence water consumption and planning in the
state of Israel.
1. Demography and Culture
The majority of Israel's early immigrants came from developed countries,
largely in Europe and North America, and to a lesser extent from Australia
and South Africa. These predominantly Western settlers "had different
(higher) water consumption habits than the indigenous population" (Naff
and Matson, 1984; 33).
statistics from 1950 show that 30% of Israel's civilian work force, most of
which was made up of Ashkenazi immigrants, had technical and industrial
skills. Most of the remaining population placed in already established
villages and in new agricultural settlements, were given on-the-spot
training as farmers. So the early Jewish immigrants were able to lay the
foundations of an industrial and a rapidly developing Israel, hence creating
a higher standard of living than that in the neighboring Arab countries or
in local native communities. This, coupled with the large number of farming
immigrants, translated into a greater demand for water.
shown in Table 2, Israel's total water consumption in the early 1980s was
three times that of Jordan and twice that of Lebanon.
Table 2 Comparative Water Consumption (in
Million Cubic Meters per Year "MCM/Yr")
source: Naff and Matson, 1984.
the Israeli newspaper Davar (26 November 1982) reported a wide gap between
the per capita water consumption of Jewish settlers on the West Bank and
that of the Arab population in the same region; while the former consumed
100m3/year, the latter consumed 40 m3/year. After 1967, Israeli authorities
imposed new and strict water regulations on the Arab residents of the West
Bank. Permits to drill water wells in Arab areas were rarely given, and even
then only for domestic purposes. This new policy, according Davar (26
November 1978), was meant to minimize any interference with the water being
pumped to Israel proper (within the pre-1967 borders) from there. As a
result, in 1977 on the occupied West Bank, 17 wells supplying Jewish
settlements (then inhabited by less than 30,000 Israelis) extracted 14 MCM/year
(million cubic meters per year), while 88 Arab wells (Palestinians then
numbered 600,000) were permitted to pump only 9.9 MCM/year (Kubursi, 1982;
pattern of high domestic and agricultural water consumption is due to
the Ashkenazi population's high
standard of living (e.g. having swimming pools, green lawns and parks, and
running water in houses), and The Zionist Emphasis on Agriculture.
2. Zionism and Agriculture
The Zionist movement was ideologically committed to agriculture, as it
initially intended to make the new immigrants feel "rooted" in
their new home, Israel. It also aimed to secure the "territorial
integrity" of the country by firmly occupying peripheral areas, making
the new country self-sufficient in food (for security reasons), and
expanding the carrying capacity of the land so it could accommodate larger
numbers of immigrants.
these goals have, by and large, been achieved, although at a substantial
cost to the government. Farmers in Israel enjoy "cheap or free
infrastructure, tax remission, special credit facilities, and export
assistance" (Stauffer, 1985; 77). Moreover, the cost of water for
irrigation is highly subsidized. In the mid-1970s, water for Israeli farmers
was up to three times cheaper than water for any other economic sector. This
continues to amount to a significant cost, as agriculture consumes over 73%
of the total water stock available in Israel.
agronomists, according to Stauffer (1985; 77), estimated that less than one
half of the country's irrigated agriculture was economically productive and
only a "fraction" of its agricultural production was economically
viable; "the rest requires not only water but steady injections of cash
subsidies." This was due to the "negative added value per unit of
water for about half of the agricultural output" (Stauffer, 1982;
massive agricultural subsidies and uneconomical farming practices
necessitate closer analysis. This will be done by studying the cost of water
and labor in the various regions in the country. For example, is the price
of agricultural water in the southern Negev desert the same as that in the
water-rich Galilee region? In these regions, what is the annual agricultural
output per MCM of water per acre, and how does this affect water planning in
Israel? Moreover, can Israeli agriculture continue its dependence on cheap
Arab labor from the west Bank and Gaza?
policy in Israel, which was, initially guided by Zionist ideology, has
become more pragmatic over time. According to Galnoor (1980; 293), until the
mid-1960s, "ideology dictated policy, and policy guided planning and
operations of water institutions. [In this period] no plan for a new
agricultural settlement was ever abandoned only because the cost of
supplying water was too high." Galnoor then concludes that diseconomies
dictated by ideology and manifested in subsidized water costs could
temporarily be tolerated under conditions of conventional or perceived water
spite of severe pressures on the water capacity of the country, ideological
objectives are still being achieved within the limitations of water
development, and water policy is such that agricultural interests prevail.
Attempts to permanently reallocate water from agricultural to domestic or
industrial sectors have been mostly unsuccessful. Although it is clear that
the quantity of water for irrigation cannot continue rising at previous
rates, analysts confirm that a change in the ideological component of
Israel's water policy has yet to occur (Galnoor, 1980; Stauffer, 1985).
mentioned earlier, although the occupation of Arab land in 1967 augmented
Israel's water supply by about 40%, the Jewish state is utilizing almost all
of the renewable water resources available to it. As water demand rises, its
supply is becoming ever more finite. That raises two fundamental questions:
one about the future of the territories, and the other about the alternative
sources of water for Israel. To answer these questions one must evaluate the
Israeli economy's degree of dependence on the resources of the occupied
rapidly depleting water resources has forced it to explore all possible
means to increase the country's water supplies. for example, water
desalinization and cloud seeding were attempted and found to be both
uneconomical and unreliable. On the other hand, the reclaiming and recycling
of waste water is more successful, and is now adopted as part of the
national water plan. In 1980, some 20% of the urban water flow was recycled
and used for irrigation purposes, thus freeing some fresh natural water for
use in the domestic sector.
planners in Israel intend to develop some 300 MCM/yr of recycled water
through the intensive utilization of 80% of the available waste water in all
regions of the country (Galnoor, 1980). Ambitious as it sounds, the
reclaiming of waste water has some serious environmental and social
ramifications. The process of recycling often results in waste water
percolating into aquifers, and polluting them.
there is the danger that demand for certain produce may be negatively
affected by the association in the minds of the consumers between recycled
water and waste. There are possible risks of long-term damage to soil and
crop yields from known and unknown components of sewage. Despite these
problems, reclaiming waste water appears to be both an economical and a
promising water-augmenting technique.
The Litani River?
large, water is a non-tradeable resource, so Israel's looming water crisis
can only have a local/regional solution. It is forecasted that Israel will
have an annual water deficit of 800 MCM by the year 2000 (Naff and Matson,
1984). Many analysts claim that Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon, up
to the western bend of the Litani, is partly related to Israel's water
needs. For Israel the lure of the Litani is twofold, relating to both the
quantity and quality of the river's water.
attractive factor is the relative ease with which the Litani River may be
diverted into the Israeli water system. Complete control over the Litani,
whose annual flow is about 900 MCM, could augment Israel's supply of water
by up to 800 MCM/yr. This represents a 50% increase in the country's water
capacity. Israel's surface and sub-surface water sources have been under
significant stress due to scarcity and high demand, and this stress has
precipitated a deterioration of water quality. For example, the salinity
level in Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee), a major source of water in Israel,
is over 250 ppm. This level of salinity is too high for some of the
sensitive and pervasive crops like citrus fruit trees. On the other hand,
the Litani River's water, with a salinity level of 20 ppm, could, if
diverted to Israel, dilute the water of Lake Tiberias.
hydro-strategic significance of southern Lebanon is rarely considered an
explanatory factor for Israel's continued occupation of this part of the
country. While the security of northern Israel may well be a factor in this,
the Israeli-controlled security belt potentially may serve a variety of
purposes. The only feasible solution at present to Israel's growing water
problem (in terms of water quality, volume, and proximity of the resource),
given the immense difficulty of achieving regional cooperation on water, is
the use of the Litani River. Lebanon's continuing political vulnerability,
as well as the proxy occupation of the South, make Israel's ambition to
"share" the Litani's water with Lebanon virtually unpreventable.
This could be done either through a unilateral water diversion scheme or
through bilateral negotiations with Lebanon, where Israel could ultimately
use the "security belt" as a bargaining chip.
latter half of the 19th century, European Jews pursued the objective of
creating a Jewish state in historical Palestine, to which millions of Jews
in the diaspora could immigrate. Their first major achievement in that
direction was in 1917, when Britain promised to assist the World Zionist
Organization (WZO) to establish a Jewish "national home" in
of water scarcity and its economic value, the Zionist leaders in Europe
actively lobbied the French and the British governments to adjust the
northern and northeastern borders of Palestine to include the whole
catchment of the Jordan River and a large part of the Litani River. These
demands were made explicit in a number of letters from Chaim Weizmann, the
head of the WZO, to various British government officials (Weisgal, 1977, vol
9). In one such letter to the British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George,
Weizmann argued that Lebanon was a "well watered" region, thus
that the Litani waters were "valueless to the territory north of the
proposed frontiers. They can be used beneficially in the country much
further south." Therefore, the WZO considered "the [Biqa`] Valley
of the Litani, to a distance of 25 miles above the bend" of the river,
to be essential to the future of the Jewish national home (Weisgal, 1977;
the desire of the WZO that Israel's eastern borders run a few kilometers
east of the Jordan River and thus include its major tributary, the Yarmouk (Weisgal,
1977; 266-267). On October 30, 1920, Weizmann wrote to Britain's new Foreign
Secretary, Lord Curzon, stating that
Palestine were cut off from the Litany, Upper Jordan and Yarmouk (Rivers),
to say nothing of the western shore of the (sea of) Galilee, she could not
be economically independent. And a poor and impoverished Palestine would be
of no advantage to any power (cited by Hof, 1985; 11-13).
demands were, however, not met when the British Mandate determined the
boundaries of Palestine to include what is today Israel, the West Bank and
the Gaza Strip.
the WZO failed in its hydrological demands, the issue was not forgotten.
Instead, a situation of political and military uncertainty developed as a
result of which Israel hesitated and then backed down from any coercive
acquisition of Lebanese territory up to the Litani River (Berger, 1985;
access to the Litani was on the minds of Israeli government officials early
in the state's formative years. The diaries of Moshe Sharett, Prime Minister
of Israel in the mid-1959s, reveal that David Ben-Gurion (the first
Prime Minister of Israel), and Moshe Dayan (Israel's chief of Staff and
later Defense Minister) were strong advocates of an Israeli occupation of
southern Lebanon up to the Litani River (Rokach, 1986; 22-27). Sharett
quotes Dayan as having said in 1954 that
... the only thing that's
necessary is to find an [Lebanese] officer, even just a Major. We should
either win his heart or buy him with money, to make him agree to declare
himself the savior of the [Christian] Maronite population. Then the
Israeli army will enter Lebanon, will occupy the necessary territory, and
will create a Christian regime which will ally itself with Israel. The
territory from the Litani southward will be totally annexed to Israel and
everything will be all right (Rokach, 1986; 26).
wake of the June War of 1967 and of Israel's territorial gains at the
expense of three of its four neighbors, Moshe Dayan once again reiterated
his long standing view that Israel had achieved "provisionally
satisfying frontiers, with the exception of those with Lebanon" (Hof,
blueprint for Lebanon was ultimately implemented in 1978 when Israel created
the so-called "security zone" in southern Lebanon. This territory
was "officially" under the control of Sa`ad Haddad, a Christian
Lebanese army Major who, in 1979, declared a Maronite-dominated state in
southern Lebanon. Haddad then headed an Israeli-financed, trained, and
equipped Lebanese militia (later renamed the "South Lebanon Army"
or SLA). Until today, the SLA and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) rule over
a strip of south Lebanon up to the western bend of the Litani River.
was not under any imminent crisis of water scarcity when it occupied the
West Bank and the Golan Heights (1967), or when it occupied southern Lebanon
(1978). The declared objective of both wars was Israel's future security and
peace. Having said this, it is significant that since then, more than 35% of
Israel's water consumption originates from territories occupied in 1967.
From the analysis above, it becomes clear that an important second objective
of Israel's occupation of the West Bank is an economic one, water being the
major factor. A similar goal is probably being sought in Lebanon.
suggests a hidden Israeli objective: one that has a hydrological dimension
and is future-oriented. That is to say, Israel's current policy in Lebanon
takes into account its forecasted water needs. The situation in southern
Lebanon resembles that of the West Bank and the Golan after the 1967 War: an
Israeli occupation followed by an enforced status quo, and then a move to
reap the benefits of occupation.
naturally-occurring resource scarcities befall states gradually, they have
ample time to carefully plan and develop a long term or impact-mitigating
strategy. This has been Israel's approach to its onsetting water shortages.
This type of scarcity is also a "real" and not a
"perceived" one, as was the case during the 1973 oil embargo.
Therefore, Israel's real and onsetting water scarcity is neither sudden nor
creation of the "security belt" in 1978 signaled the beginning of
Israel's power-balancing phase in Lebanon. Israel's occupation of southern
Lebanon appears tolerable to the occupier and to the major international
powers. Furthermore, a mechanism of socio-political control and
normalization is being implemented in the "security belt." This
strategy injects greater certainty into future policy decisions which in
turn influences the equilibrium in the balance of power. This approach to
water scarcity provides Israel with an access to new and reliable sources of
water. On the other hand, it allows Israel greater control over the shape of
the balance of power and the emerging structure of expectations, both
domestically/economically and regionally/strategically; hence Israel's
assured position as an advantaged state in the region.
other hand, Lebanon is left unstable and without the capacity to develop its
resources. Under the First Republic, this was politically tolerable. The
emphasis then was on trade and on regions populated by the dominant
traditional groups of the National Pact. Under the Second Republic, however,
co-opting the Shi`a is vital to the system's stability and security. The
latter is only feasible with complete and effective control and exploitation
of the Litani River. This type of development of the Litani is a strategic
imperative for Lebanon, not only because it thwarts Israeli designs on the
river and invalidates Israel's claim that Lebanon is wasting its water; but
also because it balances and moderates social and economic tensions that are
likely to emerge in the rebirth of a new Lebanon.
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