When International Law Blocks the Flow: The Strange Case of the Kidron Valley Sewage Plant

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On September 6, 2013, Dutch engineering firm Royal HaskoningDHV issued a statement on its website that it was terminating its involvement in a  project to build a wastewater treatment plant in the Kidron Valley, a riverbed running to the Dead Sea through Jerusalem ans the West Bank. According to the statement, the company believed “future involvement in the project could be in violation of international law.” The message came a week after the company reported that the “Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs has informed us of possible aspects relating to international law that may influence the project.” The announcement was a shock to many who had worked on the project, including environmental activists, academics, and local authorities.

The incident provides an interesting case study on how international legal and human rights discourse is utilized in the Arab-Israeli conflict by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other activists, and then in turn, adopted by policy makers. This process represents a closed circuit og policy formation that claims to be based on enforcing international law and protecting human rights. However, as this article shows, this process may be weakening the law and leading to the violation of rights. Moreover, the reliance by government officials on a narrow group of actors supporting a zero-sun inflexible approach, rather than pragmatic win-win solutions for both Palestinians and Israelis, has actually damaged the prospects for peace and hampered the ability to reach a negotiated resolution of the decades-old conflict.


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