A Citizens’ Coalition for Middle East Peace: U.S.-Jordan Valley Sister City Partnerships
When leadership in the Middle East fails to move forward with political process, people-to-people efforts become a vital means for nurturing cross-border cooperation, yielding mutual benefits, and preparing the groundwork for sustainable regional stability in the future.
EcoPeace Middle East (formerly EcoPeace / Friends of the Earth Middle East) – a Palestinian/Israeli/Jordanian NGO dedicated to environmental peace-building with a specific focus on transboundary water issues – has recently partnered with Sister Cities International (SCI) and Citizen Diplomacy Initiatives (CDI) to create opportunities for the involvement of U.S. communities and citizen diplomats who wish to take active part in peace-making efforts in the region.
The initiative builds on the success of EcoPeace Middle East’s Good Water Neighbors (GWN) project. Since its launch in 2001 in the midst of a turbulent, violent period in the region, the project has brought together Palestinian, Israeli, and Jordanian youth, adults, and municipal representatives from 28 communities to cooperate over transboundary water resources, and jointly advance sustainable development in the region. The GWN methodology is an original idea based on identifying cross-border communities and utilizing their mutual dependence on shared water resources as a basis for developing dialogue and cooperation.
The GWN project has been remarkably successful in building trust and understanding, leading to common problem solving and peace building among cross-border communities, even in the midst of conflict. In recent years, the GWN team in EcoPeace Middle East’s offices in Tel Aviv, Bethlehem, and Amman leveraged over $500 million for cross border water and sanitation infrastructure projects in GWN partnering communities.
EcoPeace Middle East, CDI, and SCI now aim to incorporate U.S. cities into established GWN relationships in the Lower Jordan Valley – one of the three major watersheds shared by Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians. The initiative’s goal is to expand the scope of existing collaborative projects to include cultural, educational, business, sports, and other sister city activities, and bring substantial human and financial resources to the project’s partnering communities by allowing U.S. citizen diplomats to participate in the trust-building process.
The GWN’s most important lesson is that once trust is built over one issue, such as shared waters, trust can garner broad ranging cooperation. It is our hope and goal that this project will further strengthen this process, eventually creating and empowering a broad, international citizen coalition for peace in the region.