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A Middle Eastern Union?

TOLEDO, SPAIN – This autumn, the Toledo International Centre for Peace convened a meeting devoted to water cooperation in the Middle East. One conclusion that emerged was that any effective response to the unequal distribution of natural resources in the region must be regional. With this idea in mind, Munther Haddadin, a former Jordanian minister of water resources, proposed for the Middle East a “Water and Energy Union,” a long-term mechanism to integrate a fragmented region.

The idea is compelling. Attending to such basic needs in a way that manages scarcities and surpluses regionally has a powerful logic.

Indeed, the parallels with the role of coal and steel in forging the European Union are clear enough that, over the past month, Joschka Fischer, Germany’s former foreign minister, has called for such a union. So, too, have former Czech president Václav Havel and a group of global luminaries who support the idea of regional integration through water. Having convened the meeting in Spain, we are very much in favor of the pursuit of such a worthy goal.

But the European “coal and steel union” became possible only after Europe’s major political conflicts were resolved. A successful process of regional integration in the Middle East will also require a political framework that ensures the stability needed to make regional cooperation work. All sides need to know where their borders begin and end. And past injustices will need to be put aside, so that the cycle of revenge and the automatic reflex in favor of immediate gain do not scuttle regional solutions to problems.