Israel and two Arab neighbors are rallying around the urgent need for freshwater, so precious in a region overwrought with seawater.
Most striking about a July 13 trilateral agreement is the intent to increase flow of potable water into the Gaza Strip, where 97 percent of the water isn’t drinkable. The coastal enclave already is gripped by a humanitarian crisis caused in no small measure by its terrorist overlord, Hamas.
More potable water also is on tap for the West Bank, Jordan and Israel.
Trilateral partners are ethnically diverse: Israel, a Jewish and democratic state; Jordan, a Sunni Arab kingdom; and the Palestinian Authority (P.A.), supposedly political moderate. The P.A.’s Sunni Fatah faction governs much of the West Bank. Despite terrorist tendencies, Fatah represents Gazans in humanitarian matters given Sunni Hamas’ pariah status.
The U.S.-brokered water pact won’t solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which precedes Israeli statehood in 1948. Nor will it suddenly counter the systemic hatred toward everything Israel infesting Palestinian culture. Still, it’s a bold, determined step that could sway ordinary Palestinians. Durable peace must rise from the grassroots. Cooperatively improving Palestinian living conditions could ease the way.
The P.A. oversaw Gaza until Hamas seized power in a bloody 2007 coup. Terrorist trappings render Hamas unfit to represent the Palestinian people and their bid for international recognition of a Palestinian state linking the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with the Arab-dominated eastern sector of Jerusalem as the capital.
Jordan already is a Palestinian state yet has shown little interest in assuaging the burden faced by Palestinian refugees.
Israel can’t be more unlike its trilateral partners. The partnership illustrates how good can percolate when political differences are cast aside for mutual benefit.
Jerusalem is at peace with Jordan’s constitutional monarchy in Amman, but maintains tenuous ties with P.A. leaders in Ramallah. Any example of cross-border cooperation, such as water sharing, heralds something special.
The water pact is part of a larger accord, conceptualized in 2013, that calls for a 137-mile pipeline to transfer water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. That would nominally restore the water level of the fast-receding Dead Sea, the lowest point on the planet’s surface.
Meanwhile, the pipeline would generate hydroelectric energy to power a new regional desalinization plant at Aqaba, a Jordanian gulf city near Eilat in southern Israel.
The so-dubbed Two Seas Canal Project would move 100 million cubic meters of water a year from the Red to the Dead. The Dead Sea has been victimized partly by redirection of its feeder, the Jordan River, toward growing countries in the region.
The project not only would address a critical water shortfall, but also the impact of mixing Red Sea water with water from the ecologically sensitive Dead Sea.
Under the project, the new desalination plant at Aqaba would provide freshwater for Israel and Jordan. Israel would share Lake Kinneret freshwater with Jordan. The P.A. would buy 32 million cubic meters of freshwater from Israel at reduced cost — 10 million cm for Gazans and 22 million cm for the West Bank.
Israel’s Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said the July 13 trilateral agreement sprouted from “passionate negotiations” led by U.S. President Donald Trump’s special envoy for international relations, Jason Greenblatt, and from “the pragmatic and professional approach” of the trilateral partners.
The agreement underscored that “water can serve as means for reconciliation, prosperity and cooperation rather than calls for tensions and dispute,” Hanegbi said, according to Times of Israel.
Potable water is certainly a common partner need. Putting this in perspective, Hanegbi says “when you focus on the issues, and not history or background or personal emotions or other disturbing elements, the common denominator’s much bigger than what separates us.”
Two Seas Canal Project financing continues. The World Bank pledged up to $400 million. The U.S., Japan, Italy and the European Union have pledged support. As a goodwill gesture, Israel will begin sale of water to the P.A. by year end, the Jerusalem Post reported.
As intergovernmental deals go, this one pulsates with possibilities, including sparks of economic stability for the P.A.
Water rights, of course, is just one of the final-status issues dogging the dormant peace process. Others include mutual recognition, borders, security, settlements, refugees, Jerusalem and holy sites.
No one expects the mid-July water deal, in concert with a deal a few days before to bring a new West Bank electrical substation to Jenin, to rekindle negotiating toward solving the anguishing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people.
But as Greenblatt suggested, the water deal, necessary and substantial, might well prove “a harbinger of things to come.”
Israel never wanted to be a regional loner. Continually making it so is anti-Zionist violence condoned by P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas. Such savagery manifested itself once more when Israel reacted defensively to terror atop Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, coincidentally administered by the Jordan-based Islamic Waqf.
Perhaps peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan will coalesce with burgeoning regional acts of humanitarianism to coax a shift in thinking and a sense of trust among Palestinians. The hoped-for effect: new negotiating in pursuit of that elusive two-state solution — a Jewish state and a Palestinian state coexisting side by side in peace, with safe, secure borders.
We cannot relinquish hope.