The 12-billion dollar red to dead sea project for replenishing the receding Dead Sea also includes plans for hydro electric power stations and desalinated drinking water for Palestine, Jordan and Israel. CGTN’s Stephanie Freid takes us to Jordan and the site of what will be the biggest desalination plant in the world.
The government in Amman has said it is planning to extract more than 10 billion cubic feet a year from the Red Sea 110 miles to the south, feed most of it into a desalination plant to create drinking water, and send the salty waste-water left over to the Dead Sea by tunnel.
Similar plans are already the subject of a two-year feasibility study agreed by the Jordanians, Israelis and Palestinians in a rare example of cross-border Middle East co-operation.
But the Jordanians have decided they cannot wait any longer. “Jordan will start with the first phase with the help of donor countries and private investors,” its minister for water, General Maysoun Zu’bi, said this week.
But environmentalists said the two years allotted to the feasibility study were already too short for a proper assessment of the risks posed to the Dead Sea’s unique ecology.
Environmentalists are concerned that the mixing of two different types of salt-water might have serious ecological consequences, including a build-up of algae. There are allied plans to build up the Dead Sea’s roads and hotels for tourism. There are also fears that increased salinity in the Red Sea might damage fish and coral. The study for the so-called “Red-Dead Water Conveyance Project”, funded by seven donor nations and commissioned by the World Bank, is examining the economic and environmental impact of building the world’s biggest desalination plant, running on hydroelectric power. As well as replenishing water levels in the Dead Sea it would fulfil Jordan’s estimated need for drinking water for half a century and supplement supplies for the Israelis and Palestinians, who live on its other side.
The Sea, already the lowest point on earth’s land-mass, has dropped by 98 feet in 20 years, and its surface area has shrunk by a third. A recent study showed that the rate of disappearance was increasing as more water was extracted from its feeder source, the River Jordan, by all three authorities for drinking, agriculture and industry. They have called it the Jordan National Red Sea Water Development Project and say it can “benefit from” the feasibility study. It will start next year, at a cost of an estimated USD2 billion, compared with the USD11 billion cost of the full scheme.
The 12-billion dollar red to dead sea project for replenishing the receding Dead Sea also includes plans for hydro-electric power stations and desalinated drinking water for Palestine, Jordan and Israel。
Israel has controlled water supplies in the occupied West Bank since seizing the territory during the 1967 war. Palestinians have long complained about not getting their agreed share and now rights groups believe Israel is deliberately limiting the water supply to farmers in an attempt to force them out.
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Jordan’s king announces return of full sovereignty as he cancels Israeli land deal
Jordan will cancel a land-annexing article in its peace treaty with Israel, King Abdullah announced on Sunday in a move celebrated by many across the country who long believed Tel Aviv had taken ties with its neighbour for granted.
In a meeting with Jordanian political figures at the royal palace, King Abdullah announced his decision to terminate an agreement in the kingdom’s 1994 peace treaty that allowed the Israeli government and farmers to annex Jordanian lands of Baqoura and Ghamr near the border.
“Baqoura and Ghamr are Jordanian lands and will remain Jordanian and we will exercise full sovereignty over our territory,” the King said as he announced the decision, a Royal Court statement reported.
“In such difficult regional circumstances, our priorities are to protect our interests and do everything that is necessary for Jordan and Jordanians,” the monarch added.
The two areas in the fertile Jordan Valley, the breadbasket for Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, are recognised Jordanian territory with temporary Israeli land ownership rights.
Under the 1994 Wadi Araba treaty, Jordan recognised Israel’s ownership of the lands for a 25-year-period, an arrangement that would automatically renew for another 25 years unless one side announced its decision to end the agreement one year before the renewal kicks in.
What makes Baqoura, known to Israelis as Naharayim, Hebrew for “two rivers,” particularly valuable is that it marks where the Yarmouk River meets the Jordan River, providing vital water supplies. Al Ghamr lies in the southern Jordan Valley. Both have been developed by Israeli farmers for decades.
Jewish settlers had lived in the area of Baqoura since the 1920s. The armistice after the 1948 war stated that the land was in Jordanian territory, and not what is now modern-day Israel. The area was disputed until Israel recognised it as Jordanian land. The ownership rights of the Jewish settlers were recognised as well.
Relations between Jordan and Israel deteriorated last year when an Israeli security officer shot and killed two unarmed Jordanian men in the Israeli embassy in Amman. Relations sunk further in December with the relocation of the American embassy to Jerusalem against Jordan’s warnings and the subsequent violent reaction to protesters in Gaza that have left hundreds of Palestinians dead and tens of thousands wounded.
Israeli Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel threatened on Monday to cut off water to Jordan in response to King Abdullah’s decision to cancel a land-annexing article in its peace deal with Tel Aviv.
Mr Ariel said in an interview with Israel’s Channel 1 that water supplies to Amman would be reduced from four to two days a week if Jordan terminates the agreement of the 1994 peace treaty that allows the Israeli government and farmers to use Jordanian lands of Baqura and Ghamr near their shared border.
On Sunday, Jordan’s King Abdullah II announced his decision and said that “Baqoura and Ghamr are Jordanian lands and will remain Jordanian and we will exercise full sovereignty over our territory”.
Under their peace agreement, Jordan agreed to grant Israeli farmers and military officers free access to the enclave.
King Abdullah said on Sunday he informed Israel of his decision. “We are practising our full sovereignty on our land,” he said. “Our priority in these regional circumstances is to protect our interests and do whatever is required for Jordan and the Jordanians.”
King Abdullah has been under increasing public pressure to end the arrangements with Israel. The leases expire next year, and the deadline for renewing them is Thursday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that “Jordan reserved the right to receive the territory”, but said he expected to enter negotiations with Jordan “about the possibility of extending the existing agreement”.
But he said that Israel “will enter negotiations with it on the possibility of extending the current arrangement”.
Under the terms of peace treaty, the lease would be automatically renewed unless either of the parties notified the other a year before expiry that it wished to terminate the agreement, the Jordanian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Sunday.
Negotiations over ending the “special regime” of the two areas would be tough with Jordan facing thorny legal issues to reclaim the land where Israeli laws now apply.
Mr Ariel called on Mr Netanyahu to persuade the king to renew the peace treaty. “Jordan needs Israel more than Israel needs Jordan,” he said.
Baqura, in the northern Jordan Valley, was captured by Israel in 1950. Ghamr, near Aqaba in southern Jordan, was seized in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Jordan is one of only two Arab states that has a peace treaty with Israel and the two countries have a long history of close security ties.
Former Israeli Ambassador to Jordan, Oded Eran, said he was not surprised by King Abdullah’s decision, adding that there is still time for the two countries to renegotiate the agreement.
The Israeli opposition accused Mr Netanyahu of failing to manage foreign policy and creating issues with neighbouring Jordan, prompting Amman to take this decision.
But the peace treaty with Israel is unpopular and pro-Palestinian sentiment is widespread in Jordan.
Activists and politicians have been vocal against a renewal they say was humiliating and perpetuates Israeli “occupation” of Jordanian territory. Such criticism prompted demonstrations in Amman last Friday, where marchers demanded the restoration of Baqura and Ghamr.
Anti-government warnings were submitted to Jordanian courts demanding against the renewal of the peace agreement with Israel.
The treaty initiated Israeli-Jordanian cooperation in a range of strategically important realms, including water scarcity.
Apart from some misunderstandings, the two countries have consistently worked together on water allocation since 1994.
Under an annex to the peace agreement, Israel uses about 1,000 acres of agricultural land in the southern sector of its border with Jordan in the Wadi Araba desert where cash crops are exported to European and US markets.
In 2013, Jordan signed a memorandum of understanding with Israel and Palestine to implement the first phase of the “Red-Dead” project.
It would desalinate seawater at the Jordanian port of Aqaba and pump 200 million cubic metres of leftover brine into the Dead Sea.
Under that deal, which aims to increase fresh water supplies for Jordan, the Palestinians and Israel and revitalise the Dead Sea’s falling water levels, Israel agreed to increase water sales to the Palestinian Authority by 20m to 30m cubic meters a year.
But, political ties between the two have been strained over the Middle East peace process. An incident last year in which an Israeli security guard killed two Jordanian citizens within the Israeli embassy compound added to the tensions.
It led to the closure of the Israeli embassy in Amman, the Kingdom said it would not allow Israel to reopen its embassy until it launched legal proceedings against the security guard.
Since then, high-level talks on water project have been suspended between the two countries.