Israel is seeking to advance work on the long-stalled Red Sea-Dead Sea project as a means of improving its relations with Jordan, Haaretz reported Friday.
The report said Israeli officials believe the repeated delays in implementing the project are a central factor in ongoing tensions between Jerusalem and its neighbor, which suffers from severe water shortages that could be alleviated by the canal.
According to the plan, a desalination plant in Jordan will provide much-needed drinking water to the region while its brine (very salty water left over from the desalination process) will be pumped north to the Dead Sea to replenish the fast-shrinking lake, while also producing green energy through use of water turbines.
The project has long been delayed by bureaucratic hurdles, financing difficulties and environmentalist objections, as well as diplomatic tensions between the countries. The delays have elicited anger from Amman, which has reportedly demanded answers on whether Israel is still committed to its implementation.
Officials are now looking at the possibility of redefining the project as one with security implications, in order to help bypass red tape, open up new funding possibilities and make it easier to win against expected environmentalist petitions.
Jordan announced earlier this month that it will not renew an agreement to lease two parcels of land on the border to Israel for agriculture use, which it has done for the past 24 years as part of an annex of the historic peace treaty between the nations signed in 1994.
Jordan has said the decision will not affect the decades-old peace agreement, seeking to assuage fears in Jerusalem that ties could be downgraded.
Officials in Israel have expressed fears that the move signaled Jordan’s desire to effectively reduce diplomatic ties, and many saw it as a reflection of intense domestic pressure from a public that still largely views Israel as an enemy.
With the announcement, the sides now have a year to negotiate the end of the lease. While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had indicated he would lobby for Amman to reverse the decision, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said that the only item on the table was the mechanism for canceling the agreement.
Tensions between Israel and Jordan have mounted in recent months over such issues as the contested status of Jerusalem and its holy sites, stalled peace talks with the Palestinians, and last year’s shooting of two Jordanian citizens by an Israeli embassy guard in Amman, which ignited a diplomatic crisis.
AP contributed to this report.