For countries in the Jordan River Basin, water is a life-or-death matter. Disagreements and even armed skirmishes over water issues between Israel and Arab states played an important role in the lead-up to the 1967 Six Day War. A decade later, USAID Foreign Service Officer Selig Taubenblatt found himself mediating long-standing water disagreements between Israel and Jordan.
In 1975, Jordan decided to build the Maqarin Dam, later named Al-Wehda Dam, on the Yarmouk River not far from the Golan Heights at the Jordan-Syria border. The dam was to supply Jordan with water for human and agricultural use, and produce electricity. But nothing is simple in this region. Israel protested, claiming the dam would interfere with Israeli rights downstream on the Yarmouk, a major tributary to the Jordan River. When both Jordan and Israel asked the United States to provide “good offices” in resolving water disputes, Taubenblatt emerged as a key player in thrashing out numerous technical details. Jordan refused to conclude a final agreement without the assent of an as-yet unformed and unrecognized Palestinian State. Ultimately the Israel–Jordan Peace Treaty of 1994 resolved outstanding water issues associated with the Maqarin/Al-Wehda Dam, which opened in 2011.