Israel-Palestine water deal

JERUSALEM – US President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy announced an Israeli-Palestinian water agreement on Thursday, but dodged questions on whether he was making headway on reviving peace talks.

At his first news conference in Jerusalem since launching a series of visits in March, Jason Greenblatt declined to say if he was any closer to a return to negotiations between the two sides that collapsed in 2014.

“Let me interrupt you to save time. We are only taking questions about the Red-Dead (water) project,” said Mr Greenblatt, who was a legal adviser to Mr Trump’s businesses before being appointed Special Representative for International Negotiations.

He was referring to a World Bank-sponsored plan to build a nearly 200km (120-mile) pipeline from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea and a desalination plant in the Jordanian port of Aqaba that was agreed in principle in 2013.

Under that deal, which aimed 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 20 million to 30m cubic metres a year.

Israeli Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, estimated it would take another four to five years to complete the $900m endeavour.

The desalination plant would produce at least 80m cubic metres of water annually. Under an agreement signed with Jordan in 2015, Israel would buy up to 40m cubic metres of that at cost each year.

Mr Greenblatt said Israel, whose own desalination plants had led to a water surplus, would sell up to 33m cubic metres to the Palestinian Authority as part of the finalised agreement signed on Thursday.

Palestinian Water Authority head Mazen Ghoneim put the figure at 32m and said 22m would go to the Israeli-occupied West Bank and 10m to the Gaza Strip.

“We hope that this deal will contribute to the healing of the Dead Sea and that it will help not only Palestinians and Israelis but Jordanians as well,” Mr Greenblatt said. “I am proud of the role that the United States and our international partners have played in helping the parties reach this deal and I hope it is a harbinger of things to come.”

The idea of a canal from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea was first talked about by the British in the 1850s, as an alternative to the Suez Canal.

Many plans had since been proposed, mainly aiming to preserve the Dead Sea, whose minerals were used in ointments and cosmetics.

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