Open letter to His Majesty King Abdullah II

Jordan's King Abdullah attend a joint news conference following a meeting with the French president at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, June 19, 2017.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Jordan's King Abdullah attend a joint news conference following a meeting with the French president at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, June 19, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Your Majesty
Recently, Your Majesty announced the end of the special regime which has prevailed ever since the 1994 Treaty of Peace between Jordan and Israel in two enclaves along the mutual border, Ghammar–Zofar in the south and Baqura-Naharayim in the north. The relevant annex in the treaty allows Jordan to do it, though there is no apparent reason for the discontinuation, except what I suspect is frustration. For almost 25 years, Jordan has been disillusioned by Israeli unfulfilled promises. I can relate to these frustrations, having participated in one of the last meetings the late Yitzhak Rabin chaired. It was about establishing a joint airport in Aqaba which Rabin had promised Your Majesty’s late father, King Hussein. We all know what happened to Rabin and that promise.
I also suspect that another reason for Your Majesty’s frustration is Israel dragging its feet on the implementation of the Red Sea-Dead Sea project. This is the flagship of all of Jordan’s development projects. It has been discussed time and again between Jordan and Israel, and the two concluded in 2015 a Memorandum of Understanding on the Establishment of the Red Sea First Phase, and on Water Solution for the Region.
The MoU was about a desalination plant in Aqaba, which would produce 80 million cubic meters of water for the consumption of the two sides, depositing the brine in the Dead Sea and the sale of water from Israel to Jordan through the Beit Zera-King Abdullah Canal in the north. The last sentence in that document says: “It is further understood that this MoU does not constitute an understanding on the development of the full Red Sea-Dead Sea Project.”
That sentence hides mountains of doubts, misunderstandings, misgivings and also other plans both in and outside Israel. Many potential donors, either states or international financial institutions, have expressed their reluctance to cough out close to one billion dollars, which the full project, that is to say, the desalination plant and the canal/pipeline, will cost. There are a couple of pledges by third states which hardly meet 10% of this cost estimate. In the absence of firm financial commitments, Jordan has developed the expectation that Israel will cover at least half of the estimated cost to boost the prospects of others donors joining.
If Your Majesty’s announcement about ending the two enclaves’ arrangements is an attempt to maneuver the Israeli government to agree to appropriate 500 million dollars or more I can understand it. States, even friendlier than ours, often do it. But in all honesty and to the extent that my opinion matters, I recommend to the Israeli government not to finance the part of the project which is beyond the desalination plant in Aqaba.
Ever since I became involved in the relations between our two countries I invested all my efforts in furthering the interests of my country and I did the same were those interests of Jordan coincided with those of Israel. I thought and still think that joint port and airport in Aqaba are beneficial to Israel. I also think that selling natural gas to Jordan is a good idea and I recommend to Israel buying back solar energy from Jordan. But the Red Sea–Dead Sea canal/pipeline is a bad and costly project.
Clearly Jordan needs more water. Clearly we must save the Dead Sea. Clearly we need to supply more water to the Palestinians. There is a feasible plan that will do all of these efficiently and I believe that it will be less expensive and will get the financial backing of the Israeli government. I have reasons to believe that other governments and international financial institutions will follow.
This is called the Med-Jordan River canal/pipeline. The quantities desalinated and conveyed should meet the three needs of Jordan, the Palestinians and adding water to the Dead Sea. Jordan will be able to draw water the same way it does it today. It will bring desalinated water by an extension of the canal/pipeline to the northern part of the West Bank, and the rest of the water will flow down the Jordan River to the Dead Sea. This is a 75 km. project as against 200 km. and in a much easier terrain. It does bring not salty water, but the water that fed the Dead Sea ever since the universe was created. I can see, Your Majesty, your hesitation as the Red-Dead Seas project is entirely in Jordanian territory, and the one I recommend depends on desalination and partial conveyance in Israel. As said before, the Israeli governments have not instilled much confidence. This concern can be met by back-to-back Israeli written guarantees to the United States and other donors and those donors giving guarantees to Jordan and the Palestinians that under no circumstances will the supply of water be interrupted.
I believe this project can rapidly gain the political and financial support necessary for launching it. If so, that will be a tremendous positive development, especially on the background of doom and gloom news that our region supplies. And if a new arrangement for Baqura and Ghammar can be negotiated, this will be greatly appreciated.
Oded Eran
 Former Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
Currently a senior INSS researcher