Water-sharing deal: Palestinians and Israel overcome one of many obstacles
WASHINGTON - Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians signed a historic water-sharing initiative at the World Bank in Washington Monday that could protect water resources in the region amid rising demand.
The project envisions a new desalination plant at Aqaba as the lynchpin of a sharing deal involving end-users in all three parties to the deal.
"It gives a glimmer of hope that we can overcome more obstacles in the future," said Silvan Shalom, Israel's Minister of Energy and Water Resources at the signing.
"We showed that we can work together despite the political problems," said the Palestinian water minister, Shaddad Attili.
The deal capped 11 years of negotiations and came as the United States pushes a new effort to forge a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians.
The pact, signed at the World Bank's headquarters in Washington, will see Jordan providing 50 million cubic liters of desalinated water to Israel's Red Sea resort of Eilat.
In exchange, the Jewish state will provide northern Jordan with the same amount of water from the Sea of Galilee.
It will also see Israel raising its annual sales of water to the Palestinian Authority by 20-30 million cubic meters a year, up from the current level of 52 million cubic meters.
The World Bank said the project is "limited in scale and designed to accomplish two objectives: to provide new water to a critically water short region; and the opportunity, under scientific supervision, to better understand the consequences of mixing Red Sea and Dead Sea waters."
According to Shalom, the project will go to international tender, to build the desalination plant in Aqaba and lay the first of the four pipes for transporting the water.
An environmental group, Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME), said the project as outlined has significant problems, including the handling of the brine from the desalination plant. The plan envisions experimenting with mixing the brine with water in the Dead Sea.
Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of the group, noted that World Bank studies had found that introducing Red Sea brine could have "detrimental impacts" on the Dead Sea's fragile ecosystem.
"It will also increase the cost of desalinating water in Aqaba by 30 percent, and it will maintain the protest of the environmental groups," he said.