A political spat intensified Sunday in the Knesset over a recent deal to supply additional water to Jordan, with the energy minister accusing opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu of spreading “fake news” about the contract. Meanwhile, a past adviser to the former prime minister panned Netanyahu’s approach to ties with Israel’s strategic neighbor while he was in office.
Energy Minister Karine Elharrar told Army Radio that the criticism of last week’s deal, which will see Israel double the amount of water it is supplying to Jordan, was an attempt to damage relations between the two countries.
Last week, the two countries agreed that Israel would sell an additional 50 million cubic meters of water a year to Jordan, doubling what it already supplies.
Netanyahu criticized the deal for giving away more than Israel is receiving in return. In a statement, his Likud party said that while he recognizes the importance of ties with Jordan, Netanyahu’s approach as prime minister was that relations should be mutual, and that if Israel gives, it should also receive.
“That is not the way things are being handled at the moment,” the Likud statement alleged.
Elharrar told Army Radio that Jordan is paying the same price for the water that Israeli consumers do.
“The leader of the opposition is creating fake news and claiming that we are giving the water for free, which didn’t happen,” she said. “There are no free gifts, but relations that need to be developed. This is a strategic asset to Israel.”
She said anyone who spreads misinformation about the deal is trying to damage ties with Jordan.
The water deal comes after bilateral relations had cooled under Netanyahu. Bennett, who took over in June, has made strengthening ties with Amman a priority. Jordan’s request for more water was said to have been put off by Netanyahu due to the tensions between the countries.
In July, Bennett met with King Abdullah II in secret at the crown palace in Amman, in the first summit between the countries’ leaders in over three years.
Uzi Arad, a former head of the National Security Council who once served as an adviser on Jordanian affairs to Netanyahu when he was prime minister, backed Elharrar on the strategic importance of the improving ties with Jordan, and criticized Likud’s trumpeting of how Netanyahu had dealt with the Hashemite Kingdom.
“You can’t handle Jordanian affairs with a provocative attitude,” Arad told Army Radio.
He said the strategic and intelligence benefits Israel gets from Jordan are “tremendous.”
The fact that Israel’s longest border requires so little military presence compared to its other borders is “worth hundreds of times” the water it supplies to Jordan, he said.
After the water deal was announced, Netanyahu responded by tweeting: “Just while Jordan is tightening relations with Iran, Bennett doubled the amount of water that Israel is transferring to Jordan — without Israel getting anything diplomatic in return.”
The additional water Israel will provide will come from the Sea of Galilee, a spokeswoman for Elharrar said at the time.
Jordan’s cooperation with Israel on water predates the two countries’ 1994 peace treaty. Like Jordan, Israel is also a hot, dry country, but desalination technology has opened opportunities for selling freshwater.