Bottoms up

“As we all know, water is a precious commodity in the Middle East."

Palestinian children in Gaza fetch water from a container (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian children in Gaza fetch water from a container
(photo credit: REUTERS)
This new week begins in the afterglow of two historic agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority: a landmark water deal for the West Bank and Gaza, and a Palestinian-owned-and-operated power substation. Both agreements portend how true peace between our peoples may be achieved from a bottom-up approach.
The water deal involves not only Israel and the PA, but also Jordan.
It is part of a grand plan that is finally getting under way: a canal bringing water from the Red Sea some 200 kilometers north to the Dead Sea, a descent of some 400 meters that will be exploited to generate electricity that will also power a desalination facility.
The direct beneficiaries of the project will be the Palestinians, who will receive millions of additional cubic meters of drinking water from the desalination expertise that Israel has pioneered and which benefits the world.
US President Donald Trump’s envoy, Jason Greenblatt, praised Thursday’s agreement. “As we all know, water is a precious commodity in the Middle East. The US welcomes the agreement reached by the Palestinian Authority and the government of Israel, which will allow for the sale of 32 million cubic meters of water from Israel to the Palestinian Authority. In addition, we hope that the deal will contribute to the healing of the Dead Sea and that will help not only Palestinians and Israelis but Jordanians as well.”
The water deal was concluded for Israel by Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, who hailed the enterprise as the “biggest and most ambitious project event initiated and exercised” in the area. He noted that it was the second agreement to be signed the same week, being preceded on Monday by the launching of a power substation near Jenin.
“After years of stalemate, and thanks to the passionate negotiations of Jason Greenblatt and thanks to the pragmatic and professional approach of both delegations..., we reached an important agreement,” Hanegbi said. He pointedly declared that “water can serve as means for reconciliation, prosperity and cooperation, rather than calls for tensions and dispute.”
Adding to the general euphoria, even the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria endorsed the deal.
“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,” said the group’s spokesman, Oded Revivi. “We have long said that true peace must be built from the ground up, one step at a time.”
Environmentalists also hailed the win-win-win deal as a significant step toward solving Gaza’s water shortage.
The Strip’s residents need about 200 million cubic meters of water per year, but natural aquifers can provide only 50 million.
Hamas has overpumped the Strip’s aquifer until seawater seeped into the groundwater, making 97% of Gaza’s water undrinkable. According to Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli co-director of EcoPeace Middle East, a joint Israeli-Palestinian- Jordanian environmental organization, the original plan had to be amended.
“The original 2013 water deal did not include Gaza at all; the original deal was only for the West Bank,” Bromberg said. “It’s because of the crisis in Gaza; both sides realize that it’s not just a water security issue, it’s a national security issue. If more water is not provided to Gaza, there could be a potential outbreak of pandemic disease, which even Prime Minister Netanyahu has said won’t stop at the border.”
Besides desalinating a yearly total of 100 million cubic meters of drinking water to be shared among Palestinians, Jordanians and Israelis, the Red-Dead project will produce “green energy” and help to replenish the evaporating Dead Sea. Hanegbi expects the $10 billion project to be completed in four to five years.
The EU, US, Japan and Italy, among others, have already committed undisclosed amounts to fund part of the cost, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.
The White House issued a statement pointing out that this “vital deal was reached under Trump’s leadership” and is “another indication that the parties are capable of working together to achieve mutually beneficial results.”
The deadly terrorist attack on the Temple Mount on Friday shows though how sometimes two steps forward can lead to a single step backward. The challenge will be to see if it is possible to continue to move forward on bottom-up steps despite the grave threats that remain on the horizon.