Israel agrees to dramatically increase water supply to parched Jordan

Move comes as Jerusalem looks to patch up ties; US welcomes agreement, which will also boost West Bank-Jordan trade

Illustrative: A Syrian man fills a bucket with water inside Zaatari, the largest camp for Syrian refugees in Mafraq, Jordan, on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019.  (AP/Raad Adayleh)
Illustrative: A Syrian man fills a bucket with water inside Zaatari, the largest camp for Syrian refugees in Mafraq, Jordan, on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019. (AP/Raad Adayleh)

Israel agreed to dramatically increase the amount of water it supplies to Jordan in an effort to battle a devastating shortage, as Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met with his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi at a crossing point over the Jordan River Thursday.

The meeting marked the first public encounter between top Israeli and Jordanian officials since a new Israeli government was established last month. Ties between Jerusalem and Amman had become increasingly thorny in recent years.

While Lapid has sought to repair the relationship, a Jordanian warning during the meeting about possible Israeli “war crimes” in Jerusalem signaled that some of those friction points may remain.

Under the deal signed Thursday, Israel will supply Jordan with an additional 50 million cubic meters (65 million cubic yards) of water to Jordan in 2021, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said. Israel already provides water to Jordan annually under an agreement signed in 1994.

The two also agreed to raise a cap on Jordanian exports to the West Bank from $160 million to $700 million.

The meeting took place on the Jordanian side of the Allenby Bridge, which connects Jordan to the West Bank.

Head of the Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset on July 5, 2021.(Olivier Fitoussi/Flash900

The US welcomed the deal in a statement later Thursday.

“It is these kinds of tangible steps that increase prosperity for all and advance regional stability,” a State Department statement said.

Jordan has been experiencing severe water shortages for months, and submitted a request to Israel for additional supplies in March. Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the request after several weeks of delay amid tension between the nations. Jordan reportedly requested an additional eight million cubic meters but received only three million.

Israel said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had approved the agreement to transfer the additional 50 million cubic meters.

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

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi at a press conference in Berlin on March 10, 2021. (Kay Nietfeld / POOL / AFP)

Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli director of EcoPeace Middle East, a Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli environmentalist group, said the deal marks a “dramatic increase” in water exports from Israel. Under a 1994 deal, Israel is supposed to supply Jordan with some 50 million cubic meters (65 million cubic yards) of water annually, but Bromberg said Israel had not exported more than 10 million cubic meters per year until now.

He said Jordan still faces a water deficit of 500 million cubic meters (653 million cubic yards) a year and would have to import considerably more to ensure a continuous supply for all its needs. Jordan is one of the driest countries on earth and its water shortages are expected to worsen with climate change.

Following the meeting, Lapid expressed appreciation for Jordan’s cooperation.

“The Kingdom of Jordan is a neighbor and important partner of the State of Israel,” Lapid said Thursday. “The Foreign Ministry will continue to hold an ongoing dialogue to preserve and strengthen ties. We will expand economic cooperation for the wellbeing of both countries.”

Water pours into an agricultural irrigation pool in Ghor al-Haditha, around 80km south of the Jordanian capital Amman, on April 20, 2021. (Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP)

But in a sign of remaining tensions between the countries, Jordan’s Foreign Ministry pointed out that Safadi had warned Israel against the planned eviction of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, an issue which has become a trigger for regional tensions.

Safadi “emphasized the necessity of respecting the historical and legal status quo in the Al-Aqsa Mosque/al-Haram al-Sherif and to respect the right of the families in Sheikh Jarrah to their homes, stressing that their expulsion would constitute a war crime under international law,” according to the Jordanian readout of the meeting.

Palestinians pray during a protest as local Palestinian families face eviction in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, on May 8, 2021 (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

He told Lapid that “there is no alternative to the two-state solution as a way to achieve comprehensive peace.”

On Wednesday, Jordan condemned Israel’s decision to dismantle the tents in the small hamlet of Khirbet Humsa in the Jordan Valley for at least the third time since November.

“The demolition, displacement and confiscation of land is a violation of international law and a clear violation of human rights rules and Israel’s obligations as an occupying power,” Jordan’s Foreign Ministry tweeted.

Jordanian King Abdullah is slated to meet with United States President Joe Biden at the White House on July 19. According to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, the two will discuss “Jordan’s leadership role in promoting peace and stability in the region.”

AP contributed to this report.

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