The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

Dr. Eran lerman: Amman’s suspension of a land lease may be a bargaining chip to extract more water from Jerusalem

The Media Line, 22.11.2018


By Victor Cabrera

A delegation of Jordanian officials accompanied by Israel’s Ambassador to Jordan Amir Weissbrod visited the Sea of Galilee this week, where they discussed a request for Jerusalem to increase the amount water allocated to the Kingdom.

The sale of water to Jordan is a central component of the nations’ bilateral cooperation, which despite the occasional public dust-up remains strong, especially in the security sphere. The 1994 peace accord spells out the amount of water to be transferred and includes assurances that both countries will offer further assistance in times of scarcity.

The rising demand for water by Syrian refugees in Jordan has compounded the severity of present drought, prompting numerous requests for additional resources. Currently, Jerusalem sells the kingdom more than 10 million cubic meters of water over the treaty’s requirement.

This comes on the backdrop of King Abdullah’s announcement last month that he would not renew a 25-year lease allowing Israeli farmers to access two plots of land—Naharayim in the north and Tzofar in the south—that were ceded to Jordan as part of the peace accord. In response, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu triggered a clause in the agreement that grants the sides one year to hold consultations to discuss the matter further.

Many analysts have attributed Amman’s decision—which some view as a blow to the treaty—to growing anti-Israel sentiment in Jordan, coupled with a public pressure campaign on the royal family that has manifested in a series of nation-wide anti-regime protests. Others believe political posturing is aimed at stimulating progress on a major desalination project which has been stalled by Israeli foot-dragging.

“The Red Sea-Dead Sea project is supposed to deliver support for the construction of a desalination plant in Aqaba that would produce between 100 and 150 million cubic meters of water per year,” Dr. Clice Lipchin, a researcher at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, explained to The Media Line. “The brine [residual water with high salt concentration] would then be pumped into the Dead Sea in order to stem its shrinking.

“Some of the desalinated water,” she continued, “would then be sold to Israel in the south in order to balance the additional water that Israel sells to Jordan in the north.”

Dr. Eran Lerman, Vice President of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, made clear to The Media Line that “while Israel has been generous beyond the obligations under the treaty over the years, Jordan is within its full rights to not renew the lease agreement.

“Nevertheless,” he elaborated, “the move is an indication of a negative mood in Amman towards Israel. It could be the case that the failure to extend the lease is a bargaining chip and it does open up the possibility that this is all part of some plan.”

Indeed, Abdullah’s ultimate goal may be to extract various concessions from Israel, knowing that Jordan’s water demands can be met by the Jewish state.

“Israel’s water economy certainly has the net capability to meet Jordan’s needs,” Dr. Lipchin noted. “But the source of the water complicates matters. If the additional water does not come from the Sea of Galilee, which is experiencing low levels, it might have to come from desalination plants.

“The question then becomes whether Jordan will be able to afford the costs of desalinated water which is roughly twice the price of that from the easily-accessible Galilee.”

As such, there is likely to be much politicking in the near future as both sides seek to gain the upper hand in negotiations. Many believe that should Israel abide by Abdullah’s request for additional water, this might give the monarch the political leverage he needs to reverse his decision to cancel the land lease.

The Media Line, 22.11.2018