This paper examines the usefulness of recognizing the commons governing irrigation water. It harnesses the commons to understand the power interactions at play in transformations over local, national and international scales. It proposes to harness the positive externalities commons generate in order to transform political and economic interactions at the national and international scales. Although it uses a Palestinian case study, this conceptual development can apply anywhere. Palestinians have long managed irrigation as commons at the local level. But the overwhelming attention paid to their national struggle has led most researchers to focus on national institutions instead. It has also favored treating water as a stock rather than a flow. All West Bank aquifers are shared with Israel. The Oslo agreements treated them as a stock and divided them quantitatively between two users: Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Recognising the existence of commons in Palestinian irrigation allows treating water as a flow. Indeed, the same water drops flow successively through several institutions, some Palestinian and others Israeli, deploying different property regimes over varying scalar levels. This paper examines the usefulness of considering water as a flow that is managed successively by such a variety of institutions. At the local level, it allows us to understand the interactions between smallholders and neighboring agribusinesses, for example. It allows us to understand the upheaval in power interactions when a merchant economy attempts to supplant a human economy. At the national level, it allows us to address the governance of the paracommons. This term designates the material gains potentially generated by the improvement of efficiency within various systems all drawing on the same source of water. Such gains are dynamic because the efficiency gain in one system often entails a loss in a neighbouring system or in a distant, yet interlinked, system. These material gains thus constitute a new commons, the appropriation of which needs to be governed. It is a paracommons because it doesn’t exist until the projects designed to improve the efficiency of different systems are implemented. Donors are funding heavily projects purporting to improve irrigation efficiency. Addressing the governance of the paracommons of Palestinian irrigation is now urgent. This paper analyses the manner the social capital developed in existing commons can contribute to this. Finally, at the international level, including the institutions emerging from the commons into an institutional structure that manages water as a flow allows us to break the deadlock of present water negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The paper details the manner this can be achieved.
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