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Behind closed doors: A Jordan-Israel water agreement amidst Gaza's crisis

Behind closed doors: A Jordan-Israel water agreement amidst Gaza's crisis

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Politics Basic Rights The Truth

Monday 6 November 202312:18 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

"الماء المُر"... اتفاقية مياه وشيكة بين الأردن وإسرائيل


"I'm thirsty" – a phrase that some of us might imagine hearing while witnessing images of children trapped beneath the debris of their homes in Gaza after the bombing, or when the United Nations warns of an impending water crisis in the besieged strip.

This imminent thirst in Gaza coincides with the signing of a water agreement between Jordan and Israel, often referred to as the "water-for-electricity" deal. Jordanians, under normal circumstances, would typically oppose such an agreement, so how will they accept such a deal at a time when Gaza has no water to drink? This rejection doesn't only come from anti-normalization groups, parties, and labor unions; it also comes from people who are not swayed by their partisan affiliations, but are motivated by their humanitarian concern for Gaza and the dire situation it faces. So, how will the government force them to accept water paid for and bought from Israel while Gaza and its people are dying of thirst?


Lack of transparency on the agreement

Jordanians have grown used to crucial information being concealed and withheld from them when it involves dealings between Jordan and Israel, and every time news of an agreement surfaces. With the recent emotional and popular tensions with Israel's massacres in Gaza, the veil of secrecy has intensified. Details about the upcoming water agreement between Jordan and Israel, along with a third country, the UAE, have been intentionally kept hidden from the public.

The water crisis in Gaza coincides with the signing of a water agreement between Jordan and Israel – the "water-for-electricity" deal. Jordanians reject such deals under normal circumstances, so how will they accept one at a time when Gaza is dying of thirst?

Similar occurrences happened before, such as in 2016 when Jordan secretly signed a gas agreement with Israel. Jordanians were not informed about this agreement for two years, despite an extensive public campaign called "the occupation enemy's gas", that included all of Jordan.

Accidental information leaks

Two years ago, Jordanians learned by chance that the kingdom was in the process of concluding a new water agreement with Israel. Israeli Energy Minister Karine Elharrar publicly disclosed that Israel had signed a memorandum of understanding with Jordan regarding water.

She had stated, "We have signed a protocol to increase the amount of water we supply to Jordan. This announcement clearly signifies our desire for good neighborly relations."

This was followed by a statement by the Jordanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the "X" platform, announcing: "During talks between Jordan's Foreign Minister, Ayman Safadi, and Israel's Foreign Minister, a deal was reached to supply Jordan with 50 million cubic meters of purchased water. Additionally, Jordan's exports to the Palestinian market will increase from $160 million to $700 million annually."

This agreement also entails the Jerusalem Electric Company purchasing electricity from a Jordanian solar energy project that is being financially supported by the United Arab Emirates.


The Kingdom's share of the Jordan River

Jordan's official stance is that it consistently receives its full share of water from the Jordan River, as per the 1994 Jordanian-Israeli peace agreement. However, some water experts accuse Israel of "stealing" Jordanian water from the Jordan River, as well as groundwater from the Wadi Araba and Al-Ghamr regions in the southern part of Jordan.

The agreement includes supplying 50 million cubic meters of water to Jordan and a substantial increase in Jordan's exports to the Palestinian market, rising from $160 million to $700 million annually.

Will the current diplomatic crisis between Jordan and Israel affect the agreement? Or will it be suspended, as was the case with the Bahrain transporter project after the World Bank removed it from the list of approved projects due to "a lack of consensus among the involved parties on the project's standards"? In such an event, Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority would need to secure alternative funding if they opt to resume the project, capable of fully meeting their water and energy needs, while facilitating exports.


"Not paying"

"The information and details of the agreement are known only to the parties involved." This is what a former Jordanian Water Minister, who preferred not to disclose his name, had to say in response to a question Raseef22 posed regarding details of the new water agreement with Israel.

He added that among the members of this "team", as the current Water Minister, Raed Abu Saud, referred to them, there is a deliberate withholding of any information related to the agreement. This was confirmed when Raseef22 attempted to contact multiple Jordanian officials who justified their refusal to disclose the details of the agreement by claiming they had no information about it.

Hisham Bustani, an activist with the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement in Jordan, expressed in an interview with Raseef22 that, like the general public, they've been kept in the dark regarding the specifics of the water agreement. He adds, "However, based on the limited information we've been able to gather, the agreement has not been officially signed yet and remains in the planning phase, reminiscent of the situation between 2014 and 2016 when Jordanian officials indicated that the gas agreement with Israel was still in the planning stages."

The United Arab Emirates is a third party in the agreement between Jordan and Israel, which stipulates that the Jerusalem Electric Company will purchase electricity from a solar energy field in Jordan that is being financially supported by the UAE

He further comments, "The mere presence of the water agreement in the intentions category indicates, without a doubt, that it's headed towards signing. This is a crime against what is happening today in Gaza."

Bustani argued that Jordan does not need to engage in energy exchange with Israel in exchange for water. Jordan has the capacity to establish its own desalination project in the Aqaba region, a project that had been previously developed, with plans that are still feasible. He concludes, "Unfortunately, Israel enters and influences any major strategic project in Jordan against our will, creating an organic connection with an entity currently committing genocide against our people in Gaza."

In the wake of the recent war on Gaza, a new campaign called "Mesh Dafe'" ("I'm not paying") emerged in Jordan. This campaign urges citizens to boycott paying their electricity and water bills in protest of the gas agreement between Jordan and Israel. It rejects the intended water agreement on the grounds that paying these bills implicates Jordanians and makes them "partners" in the events occurring in Gaza.

A new campaign called "I'm not paying" emerged in Jordan, urging citizens to boycott paying their electricity and water bills in protest of the gas agreement between Jordan and Israel, with many saying it makes Jordanians complicit in what's happening in Gaza

Does Jordan need Israel to secure its water supply?

Sufyan al-Tall, an international consultant specializing in water and environmental affairs and a former head of the United Nations Environment Programme, argues that the facts indicate that Jordan doesn't need to sign a water agreement with Israel.

Al-Tall asserts, "It's essential to emphasize that the notion, propagated by official sources, that Jordan is a water-scarce country, is inaccurate and even a distortion of the truth. Jordan possesses more water resources than it actually needs."

Rainwater

Official data from Jordan's Ministry of Water shows that the average annual rainfall in Jordan over the last fifty years amounts to 8 billion cubic meters. Meanwhile, Jordan's actual water requirements are less than 1 billion, as explained by al-Tall.

He adds, "If we could effectively manage this water, implement water harvesting plans, construct dams and barriers, we could reserve nearly 1 billion cubic meters of water in dams, water barriers, and underground storage. The global average per person, according to worldwide statistics, is approximately 500 cubic meters annually. If we divide 1 billion cubic meters, or even less, across Jordan's population, we could ensure approximately 800 cubic meters of water per person in Jordan, surpassing global standards."

Rivers

Al-Tall says, "We have three rivers: the Jordan v, Yarmouk River, and Zarqa River. Jordanian authorities conceded water from the Jordan River to Israel when they diverted the river from north of the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias), through the occupied territories, to the Negev. This decision has not garnered international attention or adherence to international agreements concerning shared rivers."

Concerning the Yarmouk River, it was, and still is, part of the official international border between Jordan and Syria. However, Jordan yielded all the water it collects at the Unity Dam (Al-Wehda Dam) to Israel, under the Wadi Araba Treaty. The agreement stipulates that 25 million cubic meters of water from the dam will be given to Israel annually, even though the dam has never collected this quantity. The average amount it collects is around 10 million cubic meters, all of which is given to Israel, white the rest is regarded by Israel as a water debt owed by Jordan.

According to maps and studies from the Jordanian Ministry of Water and the Natural Resources Authority, Jordan is situated on 12 water basins and aquifers, each containing renewable groundwater sufficient for the entire Jordanian population.

Al-Tall adds, "Throughout history, the Zarqa River has been a source of drinking water and irrigation. However, it has been diverted to serve the Samra Wastewater Treatment Plant, effectively turning it into wastewater, despite all the warnings we presented to the Jordanian government before this decision was made."

Groundwater

Regarding groundwater, al-Tall explains, "According to maps and studies from the Jordanian Ministry of Water and the Natural Resources Authority, Jordan is situated on 12 water basins and aquifers, each containing renewable groundwater sufficient for the entire Jordanian population."

He also notes the existence of a network of historical Roman and Greek tunnels stretching for hundreds of kilometers beneath Jordan, where water flows. Some of these have been recently discovered.

Al-Tall believes that Israel uses water and electricity as weapons to constrain Jordan, prompting the question of why Jordan relinquishes all these valuable water resources and subsequently signs an agreement to purchase water from a desalination plant on the Mediterranean Sea.



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