Palestinians walk past a damaged car as they return to their house after filling containers with water from a public tap in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With the signing of a groundbreaking water sharing agreement in Jerusalem on Thursday, US Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt has revived a critical, but long ignored, portion of the Red Sea-Dead Sea water conveyance venture.
“This is a real success for Jason Greenblatt,” Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of EcoPeace Middle East, told The Jerusalem Post. “Greenblatt came out looking for an early win, trying to identify where there is some potential low hanging fruit. He found the win on water issues with concrete and significant gains.”
The Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal project came to life in December 2013, when Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian Authority representatives signed a memorandum of understanding to both exchange water and build a 200-km. pipeline from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. While the Jordanian- Israeli water exchange projects detailed in the original plans have been advancing, until Thursday, the Israeli-Palestinian water transfer was pushed aside.
In February 2015, Jordanian and Israeli representatives signed an agreement to swap water, but left the Palestinian partners out of the picture. The agreement called for the construction of a 65 million cubic meter desalination plant in Aqaba, from which Jordan would use 30 m.cu.m. annually and Israel would be able to purchase 35 m.cu.m. to convey to its desert south. In return, Jordan would be able to buy an additional 50 m.cu.m. of Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) water from Israel annually.
The brine, or residual hyper-saline water, generated by the Aqaba desalination would eventually be pumped northward along a future 200-km.
pipeline, to replenish a dwindling Dead Sea, according to the agreement. While praising the water swaps, environmentalists have continually expressed concerns about the pipeline portion of the plan, stressing that the brine could change the composition of the Dead Sea.
While the Jordanian and Israeli parties have moved forward with their plans, the portion of the memorandum concerning the Palestinians failed to advance. That section had called for Israel to enable the direct sale of an additional 20 m.cu.m. of water from the Mekorot national water company to the PA .
But at long last, on Thursday, Greenblatt announced that Israel would be selling 33 m.cu.m. of water of the PA annually, as part of the Red-Dead project, at a Jerusalem press conference with Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and PA Water Authority head Mazen Ghuneim.
The 33 m.cu.m. will be in addition to the 60 m.cu.m. already being sold the PA for the West Bank and the 10 m.cu.m. allocated for the Gaza Strip. Of the 33 m.cu.m. addition, 10 m.cu.m.
will head to Gaza, according to the agreement.
While Bromberg praised the initiative, he stressed that the volume of water being supplied to Gaza is still not sufficient.
“The agreement increasing water supply to Gaza is significant,” he said.
“More can and needs to be achieved on water issues to take these results further.”
The new total of 20 m.cu.m. of water sent by Israel to Gaza will be blended into the Strip’s groundwater, creating about 40 m.cu.m. of potable water per year, Bromberg explained. However, the residents of the territory require about 80 m.cu.m., he said.
“The crisis of Gaza is a threat to us all,” Bromberg said. “This agreement is an important response to that and takes us in the right direction. Nevertheless, we continue to call on Greenblatt and the Trump administration to take the water issues further.”