The White House on Thursday welcomed an agreement signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority that will provide millions of cubic meters of desalinated drinking water to the Palestinians, saying that it hoped the deal will help create an “environment” for resuming peace talks.
“Under the leadership of President Donald J. Trump, Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt successfully supported the Israeli and Palestinian efforts to bridge the gaps and reach an agreement on this vital issue,” the White House said in a statement.
“President Trump has made it clear that working towards achieving a lasting peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians is a top priority for him, and he strongly believes that peace is possible.”
“The Administration has urged the parties to undertake efforts to promote an environment that is conducive to advancing peace, and this new agreement, the second major Israeli-Palestinian agreement signed this week, is another indication that the parties are capable of working together to achieve mutually beneficial results,” it added.
While the Palestinians made plain earlier Thursday that the deal, brokered by Trump’s envoy Greenblatt, has no impact on final-status issues in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Greenblatt hailed it as a “harbinger of things to come.” At a joint press conference in Jerusalem, however, Greenblatt refused to take any questions regarding his bid to relaunch peace negotiations.
Greenblatt and Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi refused to comment on current US-led efforts to relaunch peace negotiations, though Hanegbi said Thursday’s agreement teaches that “when you focus on the issues, and not history or background or personal emotions or other disturbing elements, the common denominator’s much bigger than what separates us.”
The agreement announced Thursday is part of a larger trilateral agreement for 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. As the water runs down the gradient it will be used to generate electricity that will also power a desalination plant to produce drinking water.
“As we all know, water is a precious commodity in the Middle East,” Greenblatt said. “The US welcomes the agreement reached by the Palestinian Authority and the government of Israel, which will allow for the sale of 32 million cubic meters of water from Israel to the Palestinian Authority. In addition, we hope that the deal will contribute to the healing of the Dead Sea and that will help not only Palestinians and Israelis but Jordanians as well.”
Trump has made it clear that reaching lasting peace agreement is a “top priority for him,” Greenblatt added. “This agreement is an example of the parties working together to make a mutual beneficial deal,” he said.
“I am proud of the role the US and international partners have played in helping the partners reach this deal land I hope it is a harbinger of things to come,” Greenblatt said.
The US envoy, who earlier this week met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and senior Palestinian negotiators as part of a bid to relaunch talks, noted that Thursday’s agreement is the second recent deal between Jerusalem and Ramallah to improve the daily lives of Palestinians. On Monday, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz and PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah attended a ceremony launching a new Jenin electrical substation.
Thursday’s water deal was reached under the tutelage of Hanegbi, who hailed the so-called Red Sea-Dead Sea Conveyance project as the “biggest and most ambitious project event initiated and exercised” in the area.
Environmentalists hailed the deal as a significant step toward addressing water shortage issues, especially in water-starved Gaza. Gaza needs about 200 million cubic meters of water per year, but natural aquifers can only provide 50 million. For years, Gaza has been overpumping its aquifers, causing seawater to seep into the groundwater and salinity levels to rise. Currently 97 percent of Gaza’s water is not potable. When Gazan water is mixed with Israeli water, however, the salinity levels drop enough to make it safe for human consumption, according to Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli co-director of EcoPeace Middle East, a joint Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian environmental organization.
The water sharing deal reached on Thursday calls for an Aqaba desalination plant in Jordan to sell water to southern Jordan and Eilat, while water from the Sea of Galilee will be sold to northern Israel and Jordan. Israel will sell 32 million cubic meters of water to the Palestinian Authority from Mediterranean desalination plants — 10 million to Gaza and 22 million to the West Bank — according to Bromberg, whose organization is heavily involved in water research and advocacy.
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, Hanegbi said.
The Israeli government now has to allocate a budget for the project — which is located entirely in Jordan but will be run by a joint administrative board — before construction can commence, he said. It is expected to be completed in four to five years, he said.
Experts have estimated the canal will cost $10 billion, and the EU, US, Japan and Italy, among others, have already committed to part of the cost, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.