As scientific warnings about severe droughts caused by climate change increase, many in Israel and Jordan are throwing worried eyes at the river that flows between them and the critical but limited resources they share.
This month, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (PDF) has unequivocally shown that the climate is changing faster than previously feared, and pressure on finite water supply is accumulating, even as demands become greater than ever before.
But, say experts, instead of the pressure provoking arguments, Israel and Jordan could be ready for an unprecedented boom in water cooperation amid technological advances and climate pressure.
Warnings of impending “water wars”, including in the Middle East, have been blown up regularly, said Professor Erika Weinthal, a professor at Duke University.
“Water is a resource with which opponents can truly find ways to work together,” said Weinthal, a specialist in global environmental policy who has worked extensively on Israel-Jordan issues.
“If you look at the data, you see more cooperation on water than conflict, and where there is conflict, it’s usually verbal.”
Jordan is one of the countries with the most water shortages in the world, suffering from extreme droughts, and water cooperation with Israel dates back to a 1994 peace agreement between the two.
The issue became known in 1921 when Pinhas Rutenberg, a Russian-Jewish engineer who moved to Palestine, persuaded the British authorities and the Hashemite royals to approve a hydroelectric power station where the Yarmuk tributary meets the Jordan River.
This continued after the founding of Israel in 1948, through decades when the nations were officially at war.
Sun for water exchange?
Water deals, like all bilateral ties, have suffered in recent years under former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is accused by critics of neglecting Jordan as he forged deeper ties with Iran’s enemies in the Gulf.
But there have been signs of progress since Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government took office in June, and the countries have agreed to their biggest water transaction ever.
New cost-cutting technologies have made seawater desalination a “lucrative source”, with investors from Israel, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates – who have only normalized ties with the Jewish state – showing interest, Gidon Bromberg said. , Israeli director at EcoPeace Middle East, said.
“The people who are going to invest in more desalination see a lot of opportunities for profit,” Bromberg said.
This means that Israel – one of the world’s desalination leaders – can sell more water, including natural fresh water from the Sea of Galilee, to Jordan without threatening domestic demand, he said.
And Israel has a new incentive to do so, because, according to analysts, it now needs something from Jordan.
To meet the obligations of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, the Bennett government approved a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the energy sector by at least 85 percent. Several assessments show that Israel does not have enough land to increase the necessary solar power production, so it will have to buy solar power from Jordan to achieve its goals.
“For the first time, all parties have something to sell and something to buy,” said Bromberg, whose organization works in Israel, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which is also struggling. a worsening water crisis.
This unprecedented alignment of interests could help restore semi-broken diplomatic relations, he argued.
“There are relatively few opportunities to try to rebuild trust,” Bromberg added. “Water and energy are one of the rare opportunities.”
Palestinian issue key
Israel and Jordan have been holding meetings on water cooperation since the mid-1950s, including the “picnic table talks”, US and UN-mediated discussions that helped shape water agreements in the 1994 peace agreement.
Weinthal describes the talks as “a lifeline for the time when these countries were technically at war”. But she also warned that she is not investing too much hope in environmental diplomacy.
“This [latest] water agreement really breathes life into reviving relationships, but … unless it is in the broader political process of dealing with the [Israeli] profession, it will only go so far, ”she said.
With the purchase of water in July, Israel also quadrupled the allowable value of Jordanian exports to the occupied West Bank.
In announcing the historic agreement, Amman’s top diplomat Ayman Safadi stressed the need to establish a Palestinian state along the borders of Israel before 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital. These are terms that Bennett’s government is dissatisfied with.
But water pressure is increasing.
“[Jordan] is now by some measures the second most unsafe country in the world, ”The Century Foundation, an American think tank, wrote in a December report.
“Water needs are expected to exceed resources by more than 26 percent by 2025.”