Water Diplomacy: Using a Creative Approach

By — on / Dispute Resolution

In the final segment of a 5 part series on Water Diplomacy, Program on Negotiation faculty member Lawrence Susskind and his colleague Shafiqul Islam present their research with regard to water diplomacy in the Middle East.

The case of Jordan and Israel shows how even countries at war can negotiate a water agreement if it is framed in non-zero sum terms and trust continues to be built over time. And that is not the only case of a treaty that has succeeded against all odds to bridge conflicting water interests; the Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan and the Ganges Water Treaty between Bangladesh and India are other examples.

Despite dramatic differences in these instances, all three negotiations succeeded because the parties involved were able to treat water as a flexible resource and meet conflicting interests simultaneously.

The critical ingredient in these successful non-zero sum negotiations is trust – not trust in experts, but trust in a process for creating new knowledge and confidence that all parties will do what they promise. While boundary-crossing water negotiations will always be difficult because competing interests are involved, it is possible to use a cooperative approach that can benefit all parties.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.


I. Fischhendler, “Ambiguity in Transboundary Environmental Dispute Resolution: The Israeli-Jordanian Water Agreement,” Journal of Peace Research 45, no. 1 (2008), 91-110.

S. Islam and L. Susskind, Water Diplomacy: A Negotiated Approach to Managing Complex Water Networks . New York: The RFF Press Water Policy Series, Routledge, 2012.

M. Haddadin and U. Shamir, “Jordan River Case Study,” The PCCP Series: Technical Documents in Hydrology 15 (2003).

This study was supported, in part, by grants from the National Science Foundation through the Water Diplomacy Research Coordination Network (NSF 1140163) and a Water Diplomacy IGERT grant (NSF 0966093). The authors acknowledge the help of Mark Rafferty (Tufts University), Katja Bratrshovsky (Harvard Law School), and Jade Salhab (Harvard Kennedy School of Government).

The Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School
501 Pound Hall
1563 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138

tel 1-800-391-8629
tel (if calling from outside the US) 301-528-2676
fax 617-495-7818