US Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt announced on Thursday that Israel and the Palestinians had reached an agreement concerning the long-discussed Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal, whereby Israel will each year sell 33 million cubic meters of water to the Palestinian Authority to relieve the water situation there.
Greenblatt, at a press conference in Jerusalem with Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and PA Water Authority head Mazen Ghuneim, said this agreement and an accord signed on Monday between Israel and the PA that will significantly increase the power supply to Jenin are examples of how the two sides can cooperate to improve Palestinian living conditions.
“Water is a precious commodity in the Middle East,” Greenblatt said.
According to a senior official in the Palestinian Water Authority, Israel agreed to start selling the water to the PA by the end of the year, which is long before the project – expected to take five years to construct – is completed.
The US envoy, who arrived earlier this week for discussion with the Israelis and the Palestinians, said that President Donald Trump has “made clear that working toward a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is a top priority for him.”
The White House issued a statement saying that this “vital deal was reached under Trump’s leadership."
“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,” the statement said.
Greenblatt, however, cut off any questions in the press conference that dealt with more than the water deal. He said this agreement, and the electricity deal, are examples of “cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians that will lead to economic improvement in the lives of the Palestinians.”
In the span of a week, he said, the Palestinians will benefit from agreements that provide “key improvement in the areas of water and electricity.”
According to Ghuneim, 10 m.cu.m of the water will go to Gaza each year. He said that the deal was a localized one, and had no relation to final-status issues. Water is one of the final-status issues to be dealt with.
“This will reduce the suffering of the Palestinian people which has been worsened by the beginning of summer and the crises that they are living through,” he said at the press conference in the King David Hotel. “It will also reduce the suffering of the people of Gaza, where more than 97% of the water is not drinkable.”
Hanegbi said that the agreement with the Palestinians “allows us to launch the Red-Dead Project that is a crucial project for Jordan, for Israel and for the Palestinian Authority.
“It will supply significant amount of water to Jordan, to Israel and to the Palestinians,” he said. “It will help us challenge the biggest problem the Dead Sea is facing – the evaporation of a meter a year – and it will also harness green energy.”
Hanegbi said that negotiations over the deal have been going on for months, and that there are two lessons from the process that can be taken forward.
One lesson, he said, is that “when you focus on the issues, not history or background or emotions or other disturbing elements, the common denominator is bigger than what separates us.”
The second lesson is that the more discreet the negotiations, the better chance they have to succeed.
Greenblatt, meanwhile, carried on Thursday with more diplomatic discussions, meeting in Ramallah with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, and in Jerusalem with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. He also took part in the first meeting of envoys of the so-called Mideast Quartet – made up of the US, Russia, EU and UN – in Jerusalem.
Afterward, the Quartet issued a statement saying the envoys discussed “current efforts to advance Middle East peace as well as the deteriorating situation in Gaza,” and “expressed serious concern over the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza and discussed current efforts to resolve the crisis.”
They agreed to meet again and continue “regular engagement” with Israel, the Palestinians and “key regional stakeholders.”
The diplomatic process is expected to be a major focus on Sunday when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Netanyahu, who had originally planned to leave for Paris on Friday, postponed his departure until Saturday night. The Prime Minister’s Office gave no explanation for the postponement, though some observers linked it to recent domestic developments and various affairs under investigation involving some of his close associates.
Netanyahu will spend two days in Paris, before flying to Budapest and a meeting of the leaders of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. He is scheduled to return on Thursday.
The Red Sea-Dead Sea project has been under discussion for years, with Israel, Jordan and the PA signing a memorandum of understanding regarding the agreement in December 2013.
The project includes the building of a desalination plant in Aqaba, and the laying of a 200-kilometer pipeline from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea.
Under the project, Israel will buy some 35 m.cu.m of water desalinated in the plant to be built in Aqaba for the south, and in return Jordan will buy 50 m.cu.m from Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) for its northern region. The 200-kilometer pipeline will carry sea water from Aqaba to the rapidly shrinking Dead Sea.
Oded Revivi, chief foreign envoy of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, said, “We are very impressed by Jason Greenblatt’s ability to achieve a substantive agreement on water that will change people’s lives on the ground. We have long said that true peace must be built from the ground up, one step at a time.”Adam Rasgon and Michael Wilner in Washington contributed to this report.