Jordanian officials said to ask Israel to boost water supply

Request comes after Amman warns it won’t renew border land leases to Israel, clinched in 1994 peace deal

Photo shows the decline in the level of water in the Sea of Galilee, October 8, 2018. (JACK GUEZ/AFP)
Photo shows the decline in the level of water in the Sea of Galilee, October 8, 2018. (JACK GUEZ/AFP)

A Jordanian delegation has traveled to Israel to request an increase in water allocation to the kingdom, which is plagued by severe shortages, according to a television report on Tuesday.

Accompanied by Israel’s Ambassador to Jordan Amir Weissbrod, the Jordanian officials arrived on Monday for a meeting on water scarcity, Hadashot news reported. The last time the joint Israeli-Jordanian committee tasked with dealing with the issue convened was over a year ago.

The Jordanian officials sought a boost from Israel to alleviate the country’s spiraling crisis, according to the report, which did not detail the amount requested by the officials. Added to that is the 50 million cubic meters Israel already sends to neighboring Jordan as part of peace agreements.

The Jordanian request must be approved by Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz of the governing Likud party. At the meeting, Steinitz also sought permission for Israel to carry out drilling operations in the Arava region, adjacent to the Jordanian border, the report said.

The mutual requests come at a period of some tension between Israel and Jordan.

Jordan announced last 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.

A Syrian refugee drinks water at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, August 13, 2012 (photo credit: AP/Clemens Bilan)
A Syrian refugee drinks water at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, August 13, 2012. (photo credit: AP/Clemens Bilan)

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.

According to a report earlier this month, Israel is seeking to advance work on the long-stalled Red Sea-Dead Sea project as a means of improving its relations with Jordan.

The Haaretz report said Israeli officials believe the repeated delays in implementing the project are a central factor in ongoing tensions between Jerusalem and its neighbor.

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.

The southern Israeli city of Eilat and Jordanian city of Aqaba seen on December 18, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Tensions between Israel and Jordan have also 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.

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