Red Sea–Dead Sea Project: By Threatening to go it Alone, Jordan Exposes Project’s Flaws

25 OCTOBER 2017
 Benjamin Walsh,
Research Analyst, Global Food and Water Crises Research Programme
Background On 9 December 2013, Jordan, Palestine and Israel took the first steps towards the Red Sea–Dead Sea Project by signing a memorandum of understanding to improve regional water co-operation.  In February 2015 Jordan and Israel progressed on this previous agreement by negotiating US$900 million ($1.17 billion) for the project. This year the arrangement was furthered when, on 13 July, as stated in a previous Strategic Weekly Analysis, delegates from Israel, Palestine and the United States established a water sharing agreement between Israel and Palestine as part of the Red Sea–Dead Sea Canal Project. While the agreement is probably incapable of producing a lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, it was championed as another display of regional co-operation. These co-operative efforts were recently soured with conflict when, only a day after the signing of the Israel–Palestine water agreement, two Israeli police officers were killed on the Temple Mount. This prompted Israel to install metal detectors to the entrance, a measure the Jordanian Government, the civil administrator of the holy site, challenged. On July 23 a guard at the Israeli Embassy in Amman shot and killed two Jordanians, one of whom was a bystander. Jordan immediately demanded the security guard be tried in Jordan, however, the guard managed to return to Israel not long after the incident occurred. Jordan has retaliated by threatening to exclude Israel and Palestine from the Red Sea–Dead Sea Project. This “Jordan only” option implies that the agreement may not be as robust as its advocates believe. Comment Jordan has understandably threatened the possible use of the “Jordan only” option as a way of balancing the relationship it has with an increasingly recalcitrant Israel. By using the Red Sea–Dead Project to do this, however, Jordan exposed the project’s susceptibility to power politics and why measures must be taken to insulate it from the vagaries of power politics between Israel, Jordan and Palestine. Though the project focusses on providing water to all three desert–swept countries, numerous allegations have been made against the project as a pipe dream. Critics believe that the focus of the project is all wrong; planners are overly fixated on the expensive transfer of brine from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. The boring, yet effective, reality of the deal is that, according to the Times of Israel, ‘in the north, Israel will sell water to Jordan, in the south, Israel will buy water from Jordan.’ Israel will also provide water to Palestine. Critics believe that instead of focussing all efforts on this part of the project, politicians are trying to gain politically by pushing the prestigious, multi-billion dollar Red Sea–Dead Sea brine pipeline. The 227 kilometre pipeline is planned to transfer brine from the desalination plant in Aqaba, Jordan to the Dead Sea. The amount of brine, however, is not considered enough to replenish the sea. On top of this, Eco Peacebelieves that mixing Red Sea brine with Dead Sea water is a challenge that has not been properly explored yet. Environmental challenges aside, power politics and a breakdown in co-operation have been brought forward by Jordan as significant challenges to the project. Jordan invoked the “Jordan only” threat as a way of signalling to Israel that it will not be treated as a second-class state. A crime had been committed in Jordan, albeit on Israeli property, and it seemed Israel had done its best to ensure no prosecutorial action was to be taken. The option, however, risks portraying the country as a problem rather than a panacea for regional co-operation. In 2013, when the project was first mentioned, Silvan Shalom, the Israeli Minster for Regional Co-operation, talked of an ‘historic process’ and a story of ‘strategic co-operation of national significance for Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.’ The World Bank expressed similar sentiments. After the signing of the Israel–Palestine water agreement this year the Israeli Minster for Regional Co-operation, Tzachi Hanegb, declared ‘water can serve as means for reconciliation, prosperity, co-operation rather than calls for tensions and dispute.’ For Jordan to stand in defiance of that spirit exposes the project to critics who fear it might be used to embolden a country’s geopolitical standing instead of its water security. While there needs to be more discussion of the financial and environmental feasibility of the project, Jordan has exposed how the project could be hijacked. Parties must work together to ensure the project cannot be used as a club when a state feels the need to punish others for a non-water related grievance. Jordan’s implied unilateralism has inadvertently presented the case for more robust multilateralism.
Any opinions or views expressed in this paper are those of the individual author, unless stated to be those of Future Directions International.
Published by Future Directions International Pty Ltd.
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