Jordan is facing a drought-driven water crisis but has one the highest solar radiation rates and a burgeoning sector of renewable energy. Israel, whose water resources are better due to its desalination skills, is increasing its water exports to Jordan by doubling.
Relationships between Israel and Jordan are being thawed due to U.S.-Israeli leadership changes. The climate crisis is bringing them closer together, allowing for cooperation in areas such as water, food security, and trade. It has been a dramatic turnaround: From four years of no contact between leaders to three major agreements in two months.
This is Why We Did It
The Israel-Jordan relationship was rekindled by the departure of Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister. The climate crisis and its focus on renewable energy and water is giving the countries something to discuss.
Despite the limitations of the Israeli-Palestinian war, pragmatism is arguing for daily cooperation as a foundation for understanding the other and interdependence. Officials from both countries hope that these new bridges could convince Israelis and Jordanians that their future is shared.
“We support the Palestinian people, we reject the occupation, and we are wary whether the Israeli government honors its agreement,” says Osama, a Jordanian farmer struggling with the drought. “But if we can cooperate in good faith as equals in a way that is not at the expense of the Palestinians,” he adds, “then let’s try to be good neighbors.”
Amman, Jordan; Tel Aviv (Israel)
Osama’s rainwater-fed olives hang partly shriveled on their branches.
The dam that he relies on to water his cucumber and tomato farms has run dry. He is now forced to haul in water every other week.
His house is near the northern Jordanian town of Irbid and receives water at least once a month.
Why We Wrote This
The thawing of Israel-Jordan relations was helped by Benjamin Netanyahu’s departure as prime minister. The countries have something to talk about, however, with the focus on climate change and renewable energy.
And yet, even as Jordan struggles with a water and economic crisis fed by what the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization is calling the worst drought in decades, Osama’s water supply will continue, thanks to the kingdom’s new agreement with Israel.
Recent leadership changes in Israel as well as the United States are thawing relations with Israel and Jordan. They are getting closer because of the climate crisis. It’s unlocking cooperation in areas from water to food security and trade between neighbors whose peace accord has so far largely failed to translate into tangible benefits for their citizens.
The turnaround was dramatic: From four years of no contact between leaders to three major agreements in two months, it took only four years.
Deal by deal, and despite all the restrictions of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Pragmatism is advocating daily cooperation as a foundation to understanding and interdependence. Officials from both countries hope that these bridges will convince Israelis and Jordanians that their future is shared.
“We support the Palestinian people, we reject the occupation, and we are wary whether the Israeli government honors its agreement,” says Osama, who did not wish to use his full name.
“But if we can cooperate in good faith as equals in a way that is not at the expense of the Palestinians,” he adds, “then let’s try to be good neighbors.”
Making the farmer’s life better fits Israel’s approach.
“If we want to have real peace, in my opinion, the biggest challenge is public opinion in Jordan,” says Liron Zaslansky, director of the Jordan-Syria-Lebanon department at Israel’s Foreign Ministry. “People there say they don’t see the fruits of peace and ask, ‘What’s in it for them?’”
From Netanyahu to Bennett
The new cooperative spirit began with the June arrival of Naftali Bennett as Israel’s prime minister. His desire to repair relations with and fortify stability in Israel’s eastern neighbor contrasted with that of his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Mr. Bennett’s first foreign trip in July, just weeks after cobbling together his diverse coalition, was to travel to Amman for a secret meeting with King Abdullah II at his palace.
The move was greeted with relief in Jordan, which had largely frozen ties with Israel in the last four years of Mr. Netanyahu’s tenure.
“It’s an entirely new atmosphere,” says one Jordanian official. “It’s like we can breathe and dare to hope again.”
The Bennett-Abdullah agenda wasn’t disclosed. However, Israel, whose water supplies have improved through its desalination prowess offered to export additional water for Jordan.
As part of the deal finalized last month, Israel agreed to sell Jordan an additional 50 million cubic meters of fresh water from the Galilee – doubling the annual allotment specified in the nations’ 1994 peace treaty.
The extra water has been life-saving. The kingdom is dependent on rain and is currently facing another delayed rainy year. Last year’s left its reservoirs below 25% capacity.
The deal marks “the opening of a new chapter in relations,” says Oded Eran, a former Israeli ambassador to Jordan and senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
“This should be leveraged by the Israeli government,” he adds, into a larger regional cooperation whereby Israel could buy solar energy from Jordan in return for desalinated water.
Opportunity has also presented itself in the biblical commandment to Israeli lands that lie fallow every seven year, which was put into effect with the Jewish new years this September.
A Jordanian agreement could allow Jordan to supply Israel with upto 50,000 tons of fruits, vegetables, and other agricultural products. It’s good news for Jordanian farmers?Due to rising shipping costs and increased competition, many of their exports to Europe or the Gulf have been unable to meet their needs.
In a third landmark deal, last week, the countries’ economic ministers met in the Jordan Valley and agreed to ease restrictions and customs duty on Jordanian exports to the West Bank. Officials believe the move will increase Jordanian annual exports to the Palestinian territories by eightfold, compared to the current $100 million worth items that include cement, granite, and cleaning supplies.
“For Jordan, Palestine is different than any other country, it is a natural economic partner, and its volume and potential is immense,” says Nael Kabariti, chairman of the Jordan Chamber of Commerce. Although Jordanians wish for more unfettered access, “every eased restriction is a benefit.”
Ms. Zaslansky, the Israeli Foreign Ministry official, describes the trade agreement as a “step forward.”
“It’s part of a process that we are leading to strengthen relations with our immediate neighbors and the whole region,” she says. “The water agreement tends to Jordan’s urgent need for water. The trade agreement promotes regional trade and prosperity.”
Mohammed al-Momani, a Jordanian senator and former government spokesman, says there’s room for more economic and environmental cooperation.
“There are vast amounts of joint opportunities between the Jordanians, Palestinians, and Israelis,” he says, if coupled with goodwill gestures by governments.
Renewable energy is one such area. Jordan has large stretches deserts, one of highest solar radiation rates in world and a burgeoning industry of renewable energy.
Advocates and environmentalists believe Jordan, which is actively selling its electricity to neighboring countries, could supply power to Israel through a direct swap for desalinated water for renewable energy.
“Rather than a one-way deal, this interdependence offers durable solutions for Israelis, Jordanians, Palestinians, and the environment,” says Yana Abu Taleb, Jordanian director of Eco-Peace Middle East, an Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian nongovernmental organization.
Jordanians should be cautious
However, there are political restrictions that prevent Israel and Jordan from cooperating.
Jordan, which has a large Palestinian community, sees the establishment and maintenance of a Palestinian state as essential to its long term stability. Israeli settlements, on the other hand, are considered to be a blockade to such a state.
But Bennett is openly opposed to a Palestinian state and any return to peace negotiations. Jordanian experts describe the differences as a “clash of strategic priorities,” and Amman’s reservations led it to careen between signing historic agreements with Israel one day and issuing stern warnings the next. Jordan condemned Israeli plans for building additional 1,300 settlement homes on the West Bank two weeks after the water deal. Ten days later, Jordan hosted Israel’s economy minister to sign the trade agreement.
“This day-to-day cooperation will continue and potentially increase while the government walks a fine line, waiting to see if there is a change in the political atmosphere in Israel” more conducive to a peace process, says Hassan Barari, a Jordanian academic and author on Jordan-Israel relations.
The new channels are capable of de-escalating potential diplomatic crises.
In July, the recently sworn-in Mr. Bennett declared Israel would allow Jews to visit and pray on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and a perennial flashpoint. The dispute was quiet settled within a day when Bennett retracted his statement.
“It’s an example of a problem that could have sparked a crisis but that now is being handled well on both sides,” says Shira Efron, an Israel Policy Forum fellow.
Change starts at the top
Yet without steps toward a Palestinian state, and with this year’s war in Gaza still fresh in people’s minds, cooperation with Israel remains sensitive in Jordan.
Multiple Jordanian ministries refused to comment on recent agreements. The agreement received very little coverage in state-influenced Jordanian newspapers.
That practice frustrates Israeli officials, who hope government-to-government goodwill can also trickle down.
“The normal Jordanian layman would say ‘no to Israel’” until Palestinian rights are secured, says Mr. Barari, the author. “But they eat their food, drink their water, and use electricity generated from their gas,” he points out. “Jordanians oppose this cooperation, but they begrudgingly accept it.”
Former officials and influential people on both sides believe that increased interdependence can shift perceptions, create change and bring about positive change.
“When more and more people see the advantages of bilateral cooperation, then you will get more reasonable voices to speak for a reasonable settlement and a genuine peace process, and radical voices will shrink,” says Senator Momani.
“That cooperative environment will be a good foundation for confidence-building measures that can lead to a genuine peace process that can settle the conflict once and for all.”