Jordan said to demand answers from Israel as Red Sea-Dead Sea project stalls

Jerusalem has threatened to ditch massive infrastructure plan unless the embassy in Amman is reopened

Dov Lieber is a former Times of Israel Arab affairs correspondent.

A view of the Dead Sea from Masada (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)
A view of the Dead Sea from Masada (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

Jordanian Water and Irrigation Minister Hazem al-Naser has reportedly sent a letter to Israel asking for an official answer as to whether the Jewish state is still committed to a joint agreement for the construction of a pipeline transferring water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea.

Earlier in November, Israel notified Jordan that the water project would not move forward until Ambassador Einat Schlein and her staff were permitted to return to their posts in Amman.

Two weeks ago Jordan said it would not allow the embassy to reopen until an embassy guard who shot dead two Jordanian nationals in July was brought to trial. In the wake of that incident, the embassy’s staff returned to Israel.

According to a report Monday in the leading Jordanian daily al-Ghad based on anonymous government sources, Israel will have to answer whether it remains committed to the project by the end of the December.

A spokesperson for Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi would not comment on the report.

The report said there are currently secret talks underway between Israel and Jordanian about implementing the first phase of the plan.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with security guard Ziv Moyal (R) and Israel’s Ambassador to Jordan Einat Schlein (L), at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on July 25, 2017. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Jordan refused to allow Schlein to return as Jerusalem’s envoy after she was photographed along with the embassy guard, named as Ziv Moyal, during a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu two days after after the deadly July 23 shootings.

The incident has put a damper on the so-called Red-Dead project. Several weeks ago Israel and Jordan were to have finalized the details before calling for tenders from international companies to do the work.

Without an Israeli embassy, the Jordanians reportedly wanted to continue the discussions by phone but Israel has insisted on face-to-face meetings, which won’t happen until the embassy is reopened, Israel’s Channel 10 reported earlier in November.

“The position of the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office is that we cannot have a situation where on the one hand the Jordanians do not allow us to reopen the embassy and on the other hand we continue to advance projects that are important to them as if nothing had happened,” an anonymous Israeli official told Channel 10.

Jordan has reportedly threatened to continue with the project on its own. Several articles in Jordanian media have cited officials saying that they do not need Israel for the pipeline, and even raising the possibility of bringing in Saudi Arabia as a partner instead.

The $10 billion project, which some see as an early stage in a regional peace deal, would see the construction of a 220-kilometer (137-mile) pipeline transferring water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea — the lowest body of water on earth — to benefit Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians, and replenish the dwindling Dead Sea.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu tours the Dead Sea in 2011. (Photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

According to the plan, a water desalination plant in the Jordanian city of Aqaba, next to Eilat, will pump its brine (very salty water left over from the desalination process) north to the Dead Sea. This will solve another problem: As desalination provides much-needed water to both southern Israel and Jordan for agriculture and consumption, the brine needs to go somewhere other than the Red Sea, which is home to sensitive corals.

Besides providing a yearly total of 100 million cubic meters of drinking water to Palestinians, Jordanians and Israelis, the Red-Dead project will produce “green energy” and replenish the Dead Sea, which is currently shrinking at a drastic pace.

Hadashot news (formerly Channel 2) reported earlier this month that the Shin Bet had completed its investigation into the embassy incident and concluded that the security guard was justified in shooting Mohammed Jawawdeh, who stabbed him with a screwdriver after learning that he was Israeli. Moyal’s landlord was also shot and killed by Moyal by accident during the incident. According to the report, there was no doubt Moyal acted in self-defense and there were no grounds for prosecuting him.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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