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Ambiguity in Transboundary Environmental Dispute Resolution: The Israeli—Jordanian Water Agreement

"Cooperation over transboundary environmental resources, water in particular, has been analyzed from various perspectives. Each study identifies the problems of cooperation differently and suggests different mechanisms to enhance it. Yet, the role of ambiguity, particularly significant in treaty design to resolve environmental disputes, has thus far been overlooked. Such a focus is warranted, since many international agreements regulating the use of natural resources are ambiguous in their schedule of resource delivery during crisis events or in their cost-sharing arrangements and may even include contradictory resource-allocation principles while remaining vague on how to settle the contradictions. This study aims to examine why, when, and how ambiguity is applied in agreements pertaining to natural resources, and water in particular. The Israeli—Jordanian peace agreement, which includes an annex on water-use regulation, is used as a case study. It was found that, under asymmetric power relations, when both sovereignty costs and uncertainty are high, several types of deliberate ambiguity were intentionally incorporated into the treaty. Some ambiguities allowed each side to present the treaty differently at home, thereby defusing domestic opposition, while others provided leeway to adjust the resource allocation during a future crisis without the need to renegotiate the treaty."
Itay Fischhendler
Department of Geography, Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
Case Studies