Israel, P.A. ink Red Sea-Dead Sea water deal

Aerial footage of the Dead Sea (Kobi Richter)

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators announced a far-reaching agreement July 13 to provide the Palestinian Authority with 33 million cubic meters of water a year, as part of the Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal project.

At a press conference hosted by United States Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, Israel’s Regional Cooperation Minister Tzahi Hanegbi and Palestinian Authority  Water Authority chairman Mazen Ghuneim said the agreement, as well as a deal to open an electricity sub-station in Jenin, are examples of competing sides exhibiting a “pragmatic approach” to solving a regional issue together for the benefit of all sides.

“This agreement allows us to launch the Red-Dead project that is a crucial project for Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” Greenblatt said.

Regional Cooperation Minister Tzahi Hanegbi added that the deal “proves that water can serve as a means for reconciliation and cooperation.”

The hypothetical idea to link the Red Sea, at the southern tip of Israel, with the Dead Sea was first discussed in the late 19th century, but Israel and Jordan have been working together to bring the project to fruition since signing a peace agreement in 1994.

Development costs for the 180-kilometer pipeline vary, with estimates for the first stage of the project reaching as high as US$2.5 billion, to be financed by local governments, international contributions and private funding. The proposal calls for the construction of a desalination plant in Aqaba, Jordan, adjacent to Israel’s southern port of Eilat, to produce potable water for both cities and surrounding communities. Israel will receive 30-50 million cubic meters of drinkable water, with Jordan taking 30 million cubic meters.

Additional Red Sea water, combined with the salty brine residue from the desalination process will also be piped north to the Dead Sea in an attempt to reverse the lake’s ongoing disappearance.The Sea  – located 427 meters (1,400 feet) below sea level – is receding at a rate of one meter per year due because 95 percent of the Jordan River’s natural flow, which naturally runs from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, is diverted for drinking water and agricultural use by Israel, Syria and Lebanon. Ecologists say the site could dry up completely by 2050, which they say would be an ecological disaster to the lowest spot on earth, and to the local ecosystem that relies heavily on the saltiest body of water in the word.

But they also warn that the chemical composition of Red Sea water is different than waters found in the Dead Sea. They say that the best way to save the Dead Sea  would be to restore the natural southward flow of the Jordan, and warn that pumping Red Sea water would also cause irreparable damage to the regional ecology.

PA Water Authority chairman Mazen Ghuneim said the Palestinians have a clear share in the project, which he said would provide them with 32 million cubic meters a year. Twenty-two million cubic meters will go to Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, with the remaining 10 million going to Gaza.