An Israeli soldier walks next to the border fence between Israel and Jordan, in southern Israel near Eilat February 9, 2016..
(photo credit: REUTERS/MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
According to a Jordanian newspaper, Jordan’s Minister of Water demanded in a letter to his Israeli counterpart a clear answer as to whether Israel is still committed to the Red Sea-Dead Sea water project.
A “yes” answer could cost the Israeli taxpayer several hundred million dollars. I suggest that before giving an answer the government of Israel debates and decides what are its objectives in Jordan and what is its strategy to attain them. This is needed if Israel wants to avoid hopping from the crisis created by an Israeli Embassy guard involved in killing two Jordanians to the periodic crisis on the Temple Mount to the looming crisis on the Red-Dead project and potential problems on water and natural gas deals.
If the government’s review indicates it should renew Israel’s strategic interest in a strong Jordan, then the current problems have to be dealt with accordingly. It should not be difficult for the government at least to meet Jordan’s request for compensation for the deceased innocent Jordanian bystander.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also stressed that meeting the guard in his office was not intended to show disrespect to King Abdullah.
There are more complicated issues to be settled and water is certainly one of them. All Israeli governments since the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty was signed in 1994 recognized Jordan’s dependency on water supplied from outside its borders. Since 1994 Israel has transfered to Jordan increasing annual quantities as a result of the influx of some 1.5 million Syrian refugees.
Desalination and recycling enable Israel to turn water into a bridge for peace and cooperation.
The 2013 swap agreement enabling Israel to purchase water from a Jordanian desalination plant in Aqaba and selling Jordan more water in the north is sensible, as it makes the plant in the south economical and it eases Jordan’s water problems in the north where the Syrian refugees have found shelter.
What may be less sensible and less economic is the Jordanian insistence that the brine resulting from the desalination plant near the Red Sea should be piped into the Dead Sea.
While it is true that the Israeli government signed an agreement with Jordan to that effect ,it becomes clear that many in Israel and the relevant international organizations involved in funding the project’s second leg (the Red- Dead brine pipe) have second thoughts.
The government would do well to review alternatives to getting rid of the brine and finding solutions to other Dead Sea problems and water cooperation projects in the Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian triangle. Only then should the government hold candid conversations with the Jordanians on ways to reduce, for example, the costs for both countries for a questionable solution on transporting brine to the Dead Sea.
A similar approach is needed in the energy sector. An agreement to supply Jordan with 45 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Israel’s Leviathan field in the Mediterranean was negotiated between the Jordanian company NEPCO and an American company representing the Israeli partners.
Since the signing of the natural gas deal, however, it came under heavy criticism in the Jordanian parliament. An Israeli-Jordanian energy framework and market could remove some of this opposition.
If relations between Israel and some of the Gulf states develop to the level of economic exchanges, Jordan would become a key link in the chain. Consideration and planning for this eventuality, especially the Jordanian part of it, may not be premature Last but not least is of course Jordan’s role in Jerusalem. While the Israeli government recognizes this role regarding sites holy to Islam as defined in the peace treaty between the two states, it does not always consult with Amman.
Jordan, on the other hand, does not always stand firm against Palestinian and other extreme Muslim pressures and is thus unable to reach understandings with the Israeli authorities. The two governments ought to strengthen their dialogue on these issues to enable them to fulfill their peace-treaty obligations on Jerusalem and avoid friction.
Jordan’s involvement in the developments in southern Syria adds value to the strategic cooperation between the two governments.
They both share concerns related to the situation in the area and have a clear interest in maintaining open channels of coordination.
Relations between Israel and Jordan are too important to allow them to deteriorate with every crisis that occurs and which remains festering for weeks and months.The writer was Israel’s ambassador to Jordan from 1997-2000 and is a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies.