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US envoy announces Israeli-Palestinian water deal

Press conference on the U.S. - mediated agreement reached by the Palestinian and Israeli Water Authorities on the regional Red Sea-Dead Sea Conveyance project, King David Hotel, July 13, 2017
Matty Stern/US Embassy, Tel Aviv
The deal hinges on Jordanian involvement in the funding of the project

US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt held a press conference Thursday morning alongside Israeli Minister of Regional Cooperation Tzahi Hanegbi, and Head of the Palestinian Water Authority Mazen Ghuneim to announce an agreement on the Red Sea-Dead Sea Conveyance project.

The ambitious project has been in the works for decades and aims to provide much-needed water to the parties involved.

For the past three years, there has been no real contact between the Israelis and Palestinians on the matter since December 2013 when Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority signed a water-sharing deal. But then the US current administration began to push the deal forward, perhaps as part of a vision of economic peace in the region leading to a political settlement.

Greenblatt and the Israelis recently met secretly in Europe to ensure that the agreement takes place, and the announcement comes days after the Israeli Electric Corporation and the Palestinian Authority signed a landmark deal that will delegate the responsibility of electricity and power supply distribution in the West Bank over to the Palestinians.

Much of the deal hinges on Jordanian involvement, with millions of dollars coming in from donor countries around the world. The US government will provide a $100 million grant, and the European Union is giving $25 million and a further $150 million soft loan. On top of that, Spain is giving $50 million in soft loans, Italy is giving $20 million in soft loans, and Japan is giving $20 million worth of equipment. Germany and France have promised political support and a future examination of funding in line with progress.

Crucially, these contributions from donor countries hinge on the understanding that Palestinians will benefit from the project.

The Palestinians will receive a reduced price on water and energy to make it worthwhile for them to buy water from the project and not from other sources in Israel, thereby opening the way for the donors to transfer money to the Jordanians to implement the project.

The first phase of the project -- with an estimated cost of $900 million -- involves building a conveyance system to transfer 300 million cubic meters (10.6 billion cubic feet) of water each year from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea.

The project will also see the construction of a desalination plant with a capacity of 65-85 million cubic meters a year.

Experts have warned that the Dead Sea, the lowest and saltiest body of water in the world, is on course to dry out by 2050.

Its degradation started in the 1960s when Israel, Jordan and Syria began to divert water from the Jordan River, the main source for the Dead Sea.

Several environmental groups have warned that the project could undermine the fragile ecosystem of the Dead Sea, which they fear could be contaminated by water from the Red Sea.

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