Jordan, Israel agree to water deal – more West Bank trade

Al-Jazeera  /  July 8, 2021

Agreements signal improved relations between Jordan and Israel’s new government following years of strained ties under Netanyahu.

Israel and Jordan reached a deal on Thursday for the Jewish state to sell an unprecedented amount of water to the kingdom, while significantly boosting Jordanian exports to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

The agreements, concluded during a meeting between their foreign ministers, signaled improved relations with Israel’s new government following years of strained ties under former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Water resource cooperation has been a core issue between Israel and Jordan since a 1994 peace deal, but relations between the neighbours have frayed in recent years.

At a meeting held just inside the Jordanian border, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and his counterpart Ayman Safadi approved Israel’s sale of 50 million cubic metres of water to its neighbour.

An Israeli official said that would effectively double the supply for the year – measured between May 2021 and May 2022 – as about 50 million cubic metres was already being sold or given to Jordan. A Jordanian official said Israel gives the kingdom 30 million cubic metres annually under their 1994 peace treaty.

Statements from both governments confirmed the sale and said the final details of the transaction would be concluded in the coming days.

Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director for EcoPeace Middle East, a leading organization on regional water cooperation that operates in Israel, the West Bank and Jordan – described the water sale as “the largest quantity ever sold between the two countries”.

“[It] is a true ‘watershed’ event,” said Bromberg.

“It represents an understanding of mutual interests and how countries in the region need to cooperate if we are to survive the tremendous challenges to water and national security that the climate crisis presents.”

Jordan is one of the world’s most water-deficient countries and experts say the country, home to 10 million people, has been grappling with one of the most severe droughts in its history.

Israel, which also faces water pressures, is a world leader in desalination.

Palestinian trade

On Palestinian trade, both sides confirmed that Jordan’s ceiling of potential exports to the West Bank, a territory occupied by Israel since 1967, would increase from about $160m to $700m per year.

Jordan’s top envoy said in a statement that he and Lapid also discussed a path towards “a just and comprehensive peace” between Israel and the Palestinians.

“The Kingdom of Jordan is an important neighbour and partner,” Lapid said. “We will broaden economic cooperation for the good of the two countries.”

Jordan said technical teams will iron out the details in the coming days, and talks on implementing the export ceiling will be held among Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian officials.

Amman visit

Meanwhile, Israeli media reported on Thursday that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett visited Jordan secretly last week and met with King Abdullah II at his palace in Amman.

This was reportedly the first meeting between the king and an Israeli prime minister in more than five years.

Palestinian sources said that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with King Abdullah after his meeting with Bennett, reported Haaretz.

Bilateral relations grew strained under Netanyahu, who was barred from using Jordanian air space earlier this year, thwarting what was supposed to be his first-ever trip to the United Arab Emirates.

Netanyahu was replaced last month by Bennett, whose coalition has indicated that warming ties with Jordan is a foreign policy priority.

Israel and Jordan made peace in 1994 and maintain close security ties, but relations have been strained in recent years over Palestinian tensions at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Israel’s expansion of Jewish settlements in war-won lands, and the lack of any progress in the long-moribund peace process.

Both Jordan and the Palestinians were adamantly opposed to the Trump administration’s Middle East plan, which would have allowed Israel to annex up to one-third of the occupied West Bank. Israel captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 war, territories the Palestinians want as part of their future state.

The announcements came days before Jordan’s King Abdullah II is to visit the White House. The Biden administration has called on all sides to take steps that could help lay the groundwork for a resumption of possible peace talks.