Dramatic new support for Red-Dead plan

Long-anticipated project could create a million jobs, solve water crisis and quadruple tourism.

Dead Sea good 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dead Sea good 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A group of Israeli and foreign businessmen and bankers are finally ready to build a $3 billion canal between the Red and Dead Seas, desalinating the water, producing hydroelectric power and yielding profits, clean water, jobs and potentially unprecedented regional cooperation. The project could create work for a million Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians, draw eight million tourists a year to Israel, and produce a billion cubic meters of desalinated water. Jordan's King Abdullah and Saudi Prince Walid bin-Talal have already given their enthusiastic endorsement of the project, according to its initiators. The dramatic Valley of Peace initiative in the Arava was unveiled Thursday - the 60th anniversary of Israel's Independence on the Gregorian calendar - by 57-year-old Israeli billionaire Yitzhak Tshuva, owner of the El-Ad Group that includes Manhattan's Plaza Hotel and Delek, Israel's second-largest oil and gas company. With inspiration and involvement from President Shimon Peres, the project needs only government approval, as Tshuva said that tycoons such as Shari Arison, Nohi Dankner and Stef Wertheimer have all committed themselves to investing money in the project. No state funds will be needed, Tshuva told The Jerusalem Post after his emotional speech during a luncheon at the Presidential Conference 2008: Facing Tomorrow at Jerusalem's International Convention Center. Tshuva, who sat with Peres along with other leading business people, said that the 166-kilometer-long canal between Israel and Jordan would be only the beginning. The planned Valley of Peace through the Arava would be developed to include tens of billions of dollars worth of hotels (with 200,000 beds) and other tourist attractions, clean industry and one of the largest botanical gardens in the world - providing a million jobs. It would quadruple tourism to Israel from today's two million annual visitors, he said. The billion cubic meters of desalinated water it would yield would make the Arava green on both sides of the border, said the 57-year-old real estate and fuel tycoon as Peres smiled broadly. Greenhouses would raise winter fruits and vegetables and sell them in the region and abroad. The area would, according to this "amazing vision," be turned into a free-trade zone, attracting investment from around the world. A high-speed train line and highway would run alongside the canal, transporting people and goods between the Dead and Red Seas within an hour, according to a sophisticated audiovisual presentation shown to the audience. "This is the only way to get out of the cycle of violence and the dead end in the area," continued Tshuva. Jobs and prosperity, he maintained, would moderate Arabs in the region and give them an alternative to violence and terror. "Peace will be made not by peace agreements but by making cooperation and goodwill among the peoples of the region. The Valley of Peace will provide a solution for generations to come." Not only did the Jordanian king tell Tshuva that he wants to be an "active partner" in the project and wanted it to "start immediately," but Saudi Prince bin-Talal, who visited him at the Plaza Hotel in New York, said he was ready to invest in the project via Jordan. Tshuva expects investors in other countries such as the US, China, Japan and Russia to participate in funding it. A "Valley of Peace Law" would be required to pave the way for the canal, "which can be built two years after the earthmoving machines are brought in. I know. I have experience," Tshuva declared. He also delivered a short message in Arabic to highlight his interest in Arab cooperation in the project. Asked by this reporter - who covered the late prime minister Menachem Begin's Knesset dinner some 30 years ago when he announced a plan for a "Mediterranean-Dead Sea Canal" - about previous canal plans that never took off, Tshuva said such a horizontal canal would not work "for various reasons" but that the climate today makes a Red-Dead Sea canal possible. The hundreds of people at the luncheon gave Tshuva and Peres a standing ovation. Leon Recanati, former chairman and CEO of the IDB Holding Company and now head of a private investment company, told the Post that if "ecological and other data proved positive and it were regarded as economically worthwhile, such a canal would be worth investigating." As for himself, Recanati said he would not invest in it because "I am doing other things."