Palestine Pulse

Israel-Jordan water agreement not worth the hype

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Article Summary
An agreement to pump water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea fails to address Israel's unilateral appropriation of Jordan River waters.

A $400 million agreement to create a desalination plant in Aqaba and to pump brine water to the Dead Sea is a far cry from what is being hyped by Israel as an “historic agreement.”

The memorandum of understanding signed at the World Bank on Dec. 9 by Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian officials calls for the creation of a desalination plant in Aqaba that would supply clean water to Aqaba and Eilat and pump sea water into the shrinking Dead Sea. In return, Israel would give Jordan 50 million cubic meters of water from the Sea of Galilee free of charge and sell to the Palestinians 20 million to 30 million cubic meters of water. Jordan would supply Eilat with 30 million cubic meters of water and make the same amount available to its own southern population.

Israeli Minister of Energy and Water Silvan Shalom, hailing the agreement as “historic,” said it reflected what he called unprecedented regional cooperation. His Palestinian counterpart, Shaddad Attili, said that the Palestinian government supports the Jordanian project, which would for the first time free up a decent quantity of water for supply to Palestine outside the framework of the Oslo Accords. This largely Jordanian endeavor is a far cry from the multibillion dollar Red Sea-Dead Sea channel that has been part of the discussions steered by the World Bank.

Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME), a regional environmental organization, has slammed the agreement as insufficient and lacking any real environmental impact studies. In particular, there is concern about mixing saltwater with the Dead Sea’s water, potentially resulting in an extremely bad odor. What is most surprising is that the agreement contradicts the recommendations made by experts as well as the World Bank itself, as pointed out by FoEME.

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FoEME is now calling on the World Bank to announce publicly that unless the Israeli and Jordanian governments halt projects which preempt the outcome of the feasibility study and social impact assessment, the World Bank will withdraw from the study process. Plans to commence development of a Red Sea-Dead Sea water conveyance before the potentially serious social and environmental impacts of such an action are understood not only render the World Bank's study meaningless, but are also likely to cause untold environmental destruction. Such action is irresponsible and amounts to a slap in the face to the World Bank and the international community which have committed resources to studying (albeit as part of a somewhat flawed process) the feasibility and anticipated impacts of the water conveyance.

While the potential environmental problems of the water pipeline have been repeatedly emphasized, many have failed to deal with the cause of the water problem: Israel’s theft of water. The simple fact is that the dangerous decline in the the Dead Sea's water level is due to the rerouting of Jordan River waters — which flow into the sea — for use almost exclusively by Israel. The Israeli national water carrier's diversion of Jordan River water to the Negev desert deprives the Dead Sea of a steady supply of water. The Israelis' actions have been dubbed water "theft" by the Palestinians, experts and major international media outlets.

The hype this latest agreement has received in Israel, where it has been hailed as a fulfillment of the dream of Zionist founder Theodore Herzl, is far from the reality. It is little more than a Jordanian desalination plant in Aqaba and a 112-kilometer underground pipeline that would help lessen the decline of the water level of the Dead Sea with questionable environmental consequences.

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Found in: water, palestinian-israeli conflict, oslo accords, jordan, israel, arab-israeli conflict

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist, a media activist and a columnist for Palestine Pulse. He is a former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University and is currently director-general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. On Twitter: @daoudkuttab

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