The Environment: A Shared Interest for Palestinians and Israelis
Palestinians and Israelis are inextricably linked in many ways, but especially so through their environment. The two communities share a small area, containing common ecological systems. Within this geographical unit, there are shared surface and subsurface water basins, shared seas and bodies of water, and the same flora and fauna and natural resources. The same aquifers feed our wells, the same rains water our fields, the same limestone quarries supply our builders, and the same soils sustain our crops.
Together, all the elements of our environment compose one delicately balanced organic whole, each part existing only in relation to the others. The consequences of sharing these natural resources are clear. Any harm to the environment almost inevitably affects the other side, both in terms of direct environmental damage to the natural resources in the region and to the people living in the area. No aquifer turns brackish without the ripple effects reaching not only all living Palestinians and Israelis, but all their generations yet to come. In short, there is no Palestinian environmental problem without bearing on Israelis, and no Israeli problem without consequences for Palestinians.
The close proximity of the two communities and the need to address regional environmental issues necessitate cooperation. As difficult as this may be, no alternative exists if the one environment both peoples share is to be sustained and cherished now and in the future. While this article will not discuss in detail the severe environmental challenges facing the region¬these issues are dealt with in some of the other articles in this journal - the broad picture is well known. The region faces chronic water shortages, making responsible management of water resources essential. Water supplies themselves are often dangerously contaminated.
Other serious problems include inadequate and environmentally destructive solid waste disposal practices, unsustainable methods of farming and livestock breeding, tree destruction, soil erosion, and air pollution. It is becoming increasingly clear that the development of sustainable systems of mass transport is essential in order to minimize the environmental hazards that result as the number of cars increases dramatically each year, and more roads are built in an attempt to accommodate increased traffic. As the available open space in the region decreases steadily, the physical development of Israel and the Palestinian Authority becomes an environmental issue of great concern. While national and political considerations may guide the responsible authorities, it is incumbent on environmentalists from both sides to ensure that the impact of short-sighted planning is considered.

Materially Advantageous Cooperation

Although the two governments have started to create mechanisms for formal cooperation, particularly with the creation of the Environmental Experts Committee as specified in Oslo II, there continues to be a need to facilitate cooperation between the two non-governmental communities and other segments of society. This informal sector containing youth, students, teachers, academics, specialists and environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs), can contribute much to protecting our shared environment. These bodies are often, by definition, less constrained than governmental groups and are able to nimbly accommodate themselves to changing realities in the execution of projects. It was against this background that the Palestinian-Israeli Environmental Secretariat (PIES) was created, in order to forge a joint commitment to protecting the environment by encouraging different sectors to become active and involved.
With regard to many of the topics mentioned above and other environmental hazards discussed in this journal, Palestinian-Israeli cooperation is a prerequisite for a successful and comprehensive treatment of these problems. In some other fields, such cooperation is clearly mutually advantageous. A case in point is the area of eco-tourism. Additionally, as a result of its strategic location at the junction of three continents, our region has an exceptional avian population, with extensive migration in the summer months. This region has been blessed with abundant natural beauty and an ancient and rich social and historical heritage. Attracting nature lovers to the region, using bird-watching, hiking trails and village tourism as a focus, will result in clear economic benefit and development.
For this benefit to be maximized, there is a need to open the whole area to eco-tourists, so that overseas and local tourists can tour the region in its entirety. Aside from its clear economic benefits, eco-tourism has a positive environmental impact, as natural sites are maintained and developed.
Due to the historical and political reality in the area, there exists a need to strengthen the Palestinian environmental community and infrastructure in order to create a balance between project partners. Environmental cooperation can playa role in this regard. Cooperation in the field of eco¬tourism is a good example of a project which can involve Palestinian and Israeli groups in generating new ideas. Projects such as this can be catalysts both for joint activities and for the development of an environmental infrastructure in the Palestinian Authority.

'People-to-People' Dialogue

Another aspect of environmental cooperation is the contact established between participants in the joint programs and the overcoming of long¬standing barriers resulting from this. While the Oslo peace negotiations held during the early 1990s, and subsequent accords, represent the commitment of political leaders to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the achievement of peace cannot be the work of political decision-makers alone. In order to cement the political process initiated, civilian and grass¬roots interaction must be strengthened among all elements of the society by developing a "people-to-people" dialogue. This would create a network of interpersonal contacts, particularly among those sharing a common interest, in order to initiate substantive attitudinal reorientation and, in turn, to strengthen the peace process. Therefore, this shared interest in the environment and this passion for the land they live on can pave the path for dialogue and joint activities, both of which are effective instruments for the prevention of crises and for the resolution of conflicts.
This dialogue, or, in this case, joint environmental activity, needs to be conducted on an open, mutually beneficial basis in order for it to succeed. Projects need to be built by both sides, and to meet both sides' interests if they are to be successful. These interests are not always identical, and different processes may be used within the same project to achieve acceptable outputs for the parties. Due to the existing reality in the region, this may involve developing Palestinian infrastructure in some projects before joint activity is commenced. It is our experience that cooperation must be built on a basis of equality and parity ~ the real, substantive sense, as opposed to a sometimes empty numerical equality of fonn only.

Joint Projects

In order to illustrate some of the principles outlined above, and to provide examples of joint environmental work currently being undertaken, it is necessary to present some projects being implemented in the area. It has been our experience that NGOs can be especially successful in the field of environmental education and public awareness. The fact that extensive infrastructures are not needed, involving the authorization of numerous agencies, allows NGOs to directly interact with youth or communities. Naturally, these activities are of crucial importance in educating a new generation imbibed with a shared sense of urgency to protect our most precious resources.
An interesting example of a project that managed to educate Palestinians and Israelis towards a shared commitment to protecting their environment is the Environmental Summer School held over the summer of 1997 in the Galilee and near Jericho, followed by subsequent seminars. Israeli and Palestinian teenagers gathered together to spend ten days learning about their common environment. Bonding between the youth was created, heightening the level of trust and friendship, which managed to transcend political and cultural differences, and changed the way the students and counselors perceived each other.
A further project that will address an important joint need, that of controlling environmental hazards emanating from industry, is the Sustainable Environmental Management Program for Palestinian and Israeli Business Leadership. Business and industry, while obviously leading economic development in the region, also have a major environmental impact on their surroundings, stemming from the improper treatment of solid and liquid waste produced, and on air pollution. With the rapid growth in industry and physical development in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, there exists a real need for both sides to meet, share their expertise and define joint procedures for environmental management.

A Fair Approach to Real Concerns

An additional need the project meets is to encourage regional economic development, thus creating the prosperity and stability necessary to build a sustainable and lasting peace. Sound environmental management has proved to be a significantly profitable business strategy for major European and North American companies. It is largely recognized today that there exists a business rationale for "being green," that pollution prevention and cleaner production pays, both in terms of the specific company involved and in terms of national budgetary considerations. This program, by encouraging the adoption of such principles by Israeli and Palestinian industries, will encourage sustainable regional economic development.
During the program, a group of Palestinian and Israeli business leaders will undergo a joint, specialized learning experience concerning the use of eco-efficient/ friendly principles in their industries. The use of Israeli expertise and advanced technologies will be discussed, and leading industrial complexes visited, for the benefit of all sides. This program will allow for direct contact to be made between a Palestinian and Israeli business leadership, with the aim of contributing to environmental protection and sustainable economic development in the area.
It is important to understand the above-mentioned projects in the light of our initial comments. Clearly, there is a need for Palestinians and Israelis to work together in joint activities for the protection of our environment. This cooperation can take place between many different sectors and concerning a variety of projects. Nonetheless, it should always be remembered that, in order for these activities to be successful, they need to address real concerns in both communities in a fair and equitable manner.