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A landmark energy deal between Jordan and Israel signed in November 2021 is set to strengthen ties between the neighboring states. While the deal enjoys regional and western support, protests and public opinion polls show that it is unpopular domestically in Jordan and may have negative repercussions for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.
“It’s an agreement that’s being signed by heads of state for political reasons to normalize relations even more between the countries or at least the governments of those countries,” Dr. Muna Dajani, a water and environmental researcher at Yarmouk Futures Programme, told Fanack.
“If energy was the real reason for negotiations it would be more open and more transparent,” Dajani said.
The project was agreed to in Dubai between Jordan’s water minister, Israel’s energy minister, and the United Arab Emirates’ climate change minister. U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry was also in attendance. The deal was originally proposed by EcoPeace Middle East, an Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian non-governmental organization, as part of their Green Blue Deal for the Middle East.
Under the deal, Masdar, a UAE-based company, would build solar farms in Jordan and the infrastructure to transport energy to Israel by 2026. Jordan would then export 600 megawatts of solar generated electricity to Israel in exchange for 200 million cubic meters of desalinated water. Masdar would then split proceeds with Jordan. Feasibility studies are set to begin in 2022.
While Jordan’s King Abdullah II shared frosty ties with Israel’s last Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his successor Naftali Bennett traveled to Amman for a secret meeting in July 2021. Soon after, Israel announced it was doubling the amount of water it would send to Jordan. The deal from November would quadruple that amount.
As one of the most water scarce nations in the world, Jordan is in need of drinking water. Residents of the capital Amman have in recent years turned to water delivery services to fill up reserve rooftop tanks. Israel started desalinating water in 2005 and now has five desalination plants along its coast with plans to build two more. Israel is also looking to generate 30 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. Meanwhile, the Mediterranean region could lose as much as 27 percent of its rainfall by the end of the century, according to climate experts. The exchange may seem like a well-suited match on the surface but experts have criticized similar agreements in the past for failing to benefit Jordan.
“We have looked at agreements that happened between Jordan and Israel over water and we know how devastating, inefficient and destructive those agreements can be,” Dajani said. “So why another one?”
In 1999, Israel refused to provide Jordan with 25 million cubic meters of water. In 2020, Netanyahu took a decision to withhold eight million cubic meters and only relented after U.S. pressure. Critics of the deal also argue that Jordan should produce its own desalinated water in Aqaba on the coast of the Red Sea – though its long distance from most of the population and relatively small coastline have been cited as complications. Jordan’s Water Ministry announced a plan to desalinate water from the Red Sea in 2021 but the project costs about $2.8 billion and is facing funding problems.
But the energy and environmental issues are not Jordan’s primary considerations for this deal, Dajani said.
“It’s not only about energy, it’s an extension of the Abraham Accords and the fact that it’s seeking to again use natural resources as the means to normalize relations between Israel and its neighboring countries.”
Signed in 2020, the Abraham Accords are cooperation agreements that aim to build relations between Israel and regional neighbors UAE and Bahrain. For its part, Jordan has had a peace agreement with neighboring Israel in place since 1994. The Abraham Accords are highly unpopular in Jordan, with 80 percent of people under 30 and 89 percent of people over 30 saying they view the deal as at least “somewhat negative,” according to a poll conducted by the Washington Institute.
The energy deal also drew hundreds of protesters to the streets of Amman in November. Protesters said they rejected the deal, saying it supports the normalization of relations with Israel and the occupation of the Palestinian Territories. Critics of the deal include members of Jordanian parliament and the head of Jordan’s Environmental Union.
“We don’t trust the occupation,” Saleh al-Armouti, a Jordanian member of parliament, told Al Jazeera. “The agreement isn’t about water, it’s about a political decision.”
The deal would also be what pro-Palestinian activists call “greenwashing,” a term that the independent Ramallah-based project Decolonize Palestine refers to as, “a form of environmental racism in which Zionists pay lip service to ecological preservation and ahistorically depicts Israel as “making the desert bloom”.
In addition to criticisms of the deal supporting and normalizing the Israeli occupation of the Palestine, there are also doubts that Palestinians living under the occupation will see any benefits.
“We also have an energy crisis in Palestine where we don’t really control our means of production, where we don’t control our sources,” Dajani said. “Palestinians might not get a drip of that agreement.”
Despite all the criticisms and lack of popular support the deal is still expected to be pushed through by Jordan’s King Abdullah. With domestic politics unable to derail the project, the only thing stopping this proposed deal is “physical sabotage,” according to the Brookings Institute. Meanwhile, as Jordan and Israel continue to build relations through energy deals, the Israeli occupation of Palestine also solidifies. The deal does not consider the rights and well-being of Palestinians living under Israeli settler colonialism and apartheid. But it also doesn’t seem to be a good faith effort at improving actual issues related to the region’s worsening climate.
“We have to look at issues of justice and equity and be more critical because what our region needs is climate justice and energy justice and all of these agreements don’t even adhere to that,” Dajani said. “[Jordan and Israel] see it as an apolitical issue that can be dealt with by signing those multibillion dollar exchanges of energy and water without speaking of politics and without addressing injustices against Palestinians.”