Zerihun Abebe Yigzaw
The only Jewish state in the world-Israel has no any tie with the Nile Basin in any geographic contexts. But politics do connect them in one way or another. If there is any connection between the Jewish people and the Nile, it is that fact that the mysterious River had been in the mind of many Jews as their ancestors were under the yoke of the Pharaohs before Mosses lead them to the Promised Land as clearly recorded in the Holy Bible. Needless to state the Jewish people for two thousands of years were dispersed across the globe and were subject to mistreatments everywhere. To halt such statelessness different countries were nominated to host them so that they can establish their own homeland. This proposal was designed and propagated by the founder of Zionism Theodore Herzl. The first feasibly seen place was Palestine in 1902 and when this was failed Herzl in 1903 went to Egypt which was under British control. Herzl asked a place for the Jewish people in the north of the Sinai Desert near Al Arish near Gaza Strip. But his claim was neglected by the then colonizer Great Britain. The aim of Herzl had he been successful of his request was planning to divert the Nile waters to the Sinai where the Jewish people would be settled so that their water need in the barren desert would be solved. Nonetheless, his request was rejected and he was not lucky to see the establishment of the Jewish state as he aspired for which came to realize after 44 years of his departure. It was following the recommendation of the United Nations General Assembly for the partition of Palestine on 29 November 1947 that led to the establishment and birth of the State of Israel on 14 May 1948 . Following such development a series of wars have been fought between the Arabs and Israel. Technically speaking, there is no peace between the Islamic dominated Middle East countries and the Jewish State of Israel. This situation has shaped the geopolitics of the region and Africa as well till today.
Egypt despite the normalization of its relations with Israel following the Camp David Accord of 1979 which resulted in the recognition of Israel by Egypt, it cannot be said that the peace deal is perfect that warmth the heart of the Muslim dominated Egypt unlike the exultation in Israel. Nevertheless since Mohamed Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin inked the agreement the government to government relation is normalized and no big war is fought between the big Arab country and the tiny Jewish state afterwards. Rather as a result of the Camp David Treaty Egypt has able to secure billions of dollars of aid from the United States and this has helped the country to build its muscles and to appear as an important ally to the West in the volatile Middle East.
Hence, linking Israel with the Nile Waters is then begun with such normalization of relations between the two former enemy states in 1979 where Egypt wants to create an artificial Nile Basin state through the diversion of the Nile out of its natural course and basin. Following this 1979 Treaty the then Egyptian president Anwar Sadat declared the construction of a new canal to bring water to Sinai so as to reclaim thousands of acres of land in order to resettle hundreds of thousands of Egyptians in the desert. He named the proposed canal Al Salam-which means Peace in Arabic. Sadat was proposing to connect Israel with the Nile waters and knowing their water problem he was calling Israel to have access to the Nile Waters. But diverting the waters of the Nile in to the Zionist state faced opposition from the neighboring Arab states and the people of Egypt itself. Nonetheless, the Al Salam canal has been constructed and is on its finish line. Whether the waters will go to Israel is a day dream which is next to impossible for many reasons of national (Egypt`s and Israel`s own politics), regional (Nile Basin states in the upstream are totally against any out of basin diversion) and religious and ethnic reasons (The Arab-Islam/Jewish divide).
What is astonishing in the Isralization of the Nile waters is that when Israel failed to accept the offer made by Anwar Sadat to bring the Nile in to Southern Israel, the academia in Egypt followed the construction of a new discourse of Israel`s involvement in upstream Nile states. This was propagated mainly during the rule of Hosni Mubarak who strengthened his ties with his Western allies than the Nile Basin states. According to the perception of the academia, Israel`s involvement in upstream states has led to the existing hydropolitical deadlock on the Cooperative Framework Agreement of the Nile signed by sis upstream states which is rejected by Egypt followed by Sudan. For these people, the new call by upstream states to sign a new Nile agreement is “politically motivated and ignited by Israel, which has been interfering in the internal politics of East African countries, especially Ethiopia.” Even Egyptian Generals are sighted “claim[ing] that Israel is helping upstream nations by encouraging their thirst for water and by financing the construction of four hydroelectric projects in Ethiopia alone.” This is however a mere accusation and paranoia of Egypt and Egyptian officials as well as the academia as they have no trust of upstream states.
It is obvious that the upstream states are calling downstream Egypt and Sudan to be part of the CFA only because the treaty declares there is no master and subject on the Nile Basin as all riparian states have the right equal access to the Nile waters. The CFA declares equitable and reasonable utilization of the Nile waters for the benefit of all the peoples and countries of the Nile River. Countries such as Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania or Burundi are utilizing the Nile waters not because Israel needs them to do that but the need for energy and food necessitated to do so. The Israelization of the Nile waters by Egyptians is therefore emanating from their own construction and perception of the country called Israel but their misperception of the intention of upstream states of the Nile.
From such discourse of Israelization of the Nile the Egyptian academia seems to profit two things with no fruitful ends as far as Egypt`s water needs are concerned. Firstly, by Israelizing the Nile waters the Egyptian academia tried to shape the foreign policy making process of Egypt towards mobilizing the Arab World against Ethiopia or any other upstream state by relating the later with Israel. This accusation on the other hand might help Egypt to secure Arab sympathy and investment. In addition to this involving Israel as enemy of Egypt and its interest on the Nile, might help them to regain Arab trust which Egypt lost following the signing of the Camp David Accord. Secondly, the Nile is used as one instrument in Egypt to mobilize the ordinary people under one theme of anti-Israel sentiment by accusing Israel as if it involves in mega water projects in upstream states notably Ethiopia.
The discourse of Israelizing upstream Nile water developments and the Nile Treaty by the paranoid Egyptian academia can be related with many things. The most important one is the historical ties between the Biblical Israel and Ethiopia which has its roots from King Solomon of Israel and Queen Makida of Ethiopia. The perception of such relation is elasticized to consider even Ethiopia as a Judeo-Christian state which is more affiliated to Israel in the eyes of some because Ethiopia is the only the Ark of the Covenant. Secondly, the reason might be attributed to Israel`s investment relations and strong ties with almost all Nile riparian states on various issues of common interest. What makes Ethiopia`s relation with Israel further different is Ethiopia has had thousands of Jewish community called the Bete-Israel. Thirdly, it can be argue that there is exaggeration of Israel`s technical support on science and technology of water conservation mechanisms and drip-irrigation in some upstream states of the Nile.
Fourthly, it is not a surprise to hear and read such Israelization of the Nile from Egypt, taking the series of battles the Arabs and Israel fought coupled with the no war, no peace situation; technically speaking. For long Egypt and Egyptians have victimized of perceiving that he who controls the Nile controls Egypt-as the Nile is the only source of life for them. Thus any involvement of Israel in upstream Nile countries no matter what the issue of interaction is, it might be brushed with anti-Egypt move of Israel to control the Nile waters to make Egypt parched. Such discourse formation however will not help Egypt to maintain the flow of the Nile waters. Such rhetoric and accusations by the academia will simply add fuel to the deep-rooted mistrust between the riparian states rather than enhancing the sense of children of the river.
Thus it needs us to emancipate the Egyptian academia from such a paranoid perception of Israelizing the water developments in upstream Nile. Unless, the Egyptian academia is changed it will make the short road long to establish confidence and trust between upstream and downstream Nile. Hence it necessitates the opening and enhancement of dialogue and discussion on the issue between the epistemic communities of the riparian states under the umbrella of One Nile, One People!!