By Seth Seigel, NYT
The Trump administration has yet to broker the “toughest deal of all” – that between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Chances seem slim. But Jason Greenblatt, the president’s Middle East envoy, did announce some welcome news at a press conference Thursday in Jerusalem: The Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians will be cooperating on a large water infrastructure project, which will provide billions of gallons of new water supplies for each of the three parties.
That project – first announced in December 2013 – will take water from the Red Sea, near Israel’s southernmost city of Eilat, and use gravity to carrythe water 137 miles via the kingdom of Jordan to the southern part of the Dead Sea, adjacent to Israel’s Arava desert. There it will be desalinated, with the brine deposited in the shrinking Dead Sea and the fresh water transferred into Israel for still-to-be-built desert farms. In exchange, a water pipeline will be built from Israel into Jordan’s capital, Amman, and Israel will augment the already significant amount of water it provides to the Palestinians in the West Bank, particularly in the Hebron area.
The strategic genius of the plan is that it weaves vital economic interests of these sometimes-antagonists together. Even should Jordan or the West Bank someday fall to radical rejectionists, it would be nearly impossible for those leaders to entirely break the water ties established here without creating substantial hardship for their populations.
But the biggest news out of the press conference isn’t what amounts to an update on the Red Sea-Dead Sea project. It is that senior water officials from Israel and the Palestinian Authority shared a stage and warmly engaged with each other. It is, so to speak, a high-water mark in Israeli-Palestinian history regarding this precious resource.
Following its victory in the 1967 war, Israel took control of the local water infrastructure and administration of the West Bank, as it did nearly all other aspects of civilian life. That changed with the Oslo Agreement of 1995, which created both the Palestinian Authority and a Palestinian Water Authority, the latter being responsible for overseeing water projects in the West Bank and Gaza.
Another transformative feature of the 1995 agreement was to alter the balance of power by giving Israel and the Palestinians veto power over each other’s water projects in the West Bank. That encouraged cooperation and led to a steady improvement of water infrastructure for both Israeli settlements and every Palestinian city and town.
But beginning in 2008, the Palestinian leadership decided to turn water into a political tool to bludgeon Israel. The claim, which gained currency among some in the human-rights community and the news media, was that Israel was starving Palestinians of water to oppress them and to break their economy. Never mind that Israel was scrupulously adhering to the Oslo Agreement and providing more than half of all of all of the water used by Palestinians in the …read more