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This week, Jason Greenblatt, the US president’s Middle East envoy, did announce some welcome news at a press conference: The Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians will be cooperating on a large water infrastructure project, which will provide billions of gallons of new water supplies for each of the three parties.
That project — first announced in December 2013 — will take water from the Red Sea, near Israel’s southernmost city of Eilat, and use gravity to carry the water 137 miles via the kingdom of Jordan to the southern part of the Dead Sea. There it will be desalinated, with the brine deposited in the shrinking Dead Sea and the fresh water transferred into Israel for still-to-be-built desert farms. In exchange, a water pipeline will be built from Israel into Jordan’s capital, Amman.
The strategic genius of the plan is that it weaves vital economic interests of these sometimes-antagonists together.
The biggest news out of the press conference is that senior water officials from Israel and the Palestinian Authority shared a stage and warmly engaged with each other. It is, so to speak, a high-water mark in Israeli-Palestinian history regarding this precious resource.
Beginning in 2008, the Palestinian leadership decided to turn water into a political tool to bludgeon Israel. The claim, which gained currency among some in the human-rights community and the news media, was that Israel was starving Palestinians of water to oppress them and to break their economy.
To keep this manufactured water crisis from being exposed as a sham, it was necessary to have Palestinian water projects grind to a halt. The self-sabotage of the anti-normalization campaign was felt nowhere more strongly than in water. Israel’s settlements suffered from a lack of new water projects, but the Palestinians suffered more.
Quietly, the Palestinian business community made clear that the value of blackening Israel’s name in some quarters was not worth the price being paid in quality of life and lost business opportunities.