Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority signed a regional water agreement which will include the construction of a desalination plant in Jordan and a 180-kilometer underground pipeline that will carry water from the Red Sea to replenish the Dead Sea. This is a big co-operative step for these three parties, and one that might lead to alterations in regional dynamics.
The agreement was signed at the World Bank’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. The project is expected to cost between $250 million and $400 million and is envisioned to become a reality within four to five years. Many see in this infrastructure and water sharing deal as a window of opportunity to give the ongoing peace talks between Israel and Palestine a fresh push.
The approved project is a watered-down (so to speak) version of different plans that have been in the works for years now, specifically one known as the ‘Red Dead Canal’ project. The layout of the water exchange program the three nations just inked includes draining 200 million cubic meters of water a year from the Gulf of Aqaba, the northeastern arm of the Red Sea. Eighty million will be desalted in Aqaba, where the desalination plant will be built, and funneled as a new source of drinking water to Israel and Jordan; the remaining brine waste will be used to raise the Dead Sea’s level which has been decreasing rapidly over the last decades with some saying that it could be dried out by 2050. Environmental groups criticize the plan saying that it could have a negative influence over the Dead Sea’s fragile ecosystem.
The water-sharing breakdown is where the real attractiveness of the deal lies. Israel will receive 30 and 50 million cubic meters to use in the city of Eilat and the Arava region. Water-eager Jordan gets 30 million cubic meters for use in the south of the country and another 50 million from Israel’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Tiberias, also known as the Sea of Galilee. Under the plan, the Palestinian Authority will also receive water from Lake Tiberias to improve supplies in the West Bank (though this won’t cool the larger tension over the ownership of natural resources between Israelis and Palestinians). An international tender for the entire project is expected to follow in the upcoming weeks. This is when and where international investors will show their interest (or lack of it) in the agreement that has the potential to reshape the region.
Water shortages are a regular catalyst for local conflicts around the world. Jordan is always eager to increase its water supply, even more so after the massive influx of Syrian refugees. The Middle East troika – Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority – share 500 kilometers of frontier and have an interest in coming to peaceful terms with one another. If successful, their cooperation on the water segment has the potential to be applied to other sectors such as agriculture or tourism.