by Malcolm Cook
What would T E Laurence say as thousands flood the streets in Istanbul to rally against the conflict with Syria. Although the main issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict has always been the Palestine question, water has been a continuous matter of dispute that is intrinsically linked to it.
The Golan Heights water is the source for more than 55% of Israel’s fresh water needs and forms part of the ground water reserves that supplies Israel with most of their water supply.
The ‘Line of 4th June 1967’ issue, which has become part of the Arab-Israeli dialogue for years. It outlines the withdrawal demanded of Israel by Syria in the context of any peace treaty. Conceptually, the line of 4 June 1967 was the confrontation line, on the day before the outbreak of the 5 June 1967 war.
Only along one 15-kilometer stretch did this dubious line correspond with the international boundary between Palestine and Syria instituted by Great Britain and France in 1923. Neither did it correspond to the mutually agreed UN brokered Armistice Demarcation Line agreed to by the parties in 1949, after the first Arab Israeli war. The root of the Arab-Israeli water issue can be traced back to 9th March 1916, when the Sykes-Picot Agreement was signed between the British and the French.
T E Lawrence (of Arabia) was gnawed by these doubts. When he rode off to enter Damascus in 1917, alone and with a price on his head, he wrote an agonized note to his chief in Cairo: “Clayton, I’ve decided to go off alone to Damascus, hoping to get killed on the way… We are calling them to fight for us on a lie, and I can’t stand it.”
It was his view then and later that the Allies had persuaded the Arabs to take up arms against the Turks with a false promise, and that even as the Arabs were fighting, the British and the French were secretly laying claim to the spoils of war in advance, and sharing between themselves the areas that the Arabs had been promised: Lebanon and Syria for France, Palestine, what is now Jordan, and what is now Iraq (with its rich oil reserves) for Great Britain, leaving for the Arabs only a few worthless strips of desert, without major ports or sensible frontiers, like throwing them the carcass of a chicken once the meat had been carved away. The land grab continues.