On Thursday, the American Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt announced that the concerned parties had reached an agreement for Israel to proceed with constructing a canal that will run through Jordanian territory to connect the Red and Dead Seas. Desalinated water from the canal will be directed to Israeli farms; in exchange, a new pipeline will bring water from Israel to Jordan, and Jerusalem will also increase the amount of water it provides to Palestinian areas in the West Bank. As Seth Siegel writes, the deal marks an important shift in the Palestinian Authority’s policies, and will bring much good:
The strategic genius of the plan is that it weaves vital economic interests of these sometimes-antagonists together. Even should Jordan or the West Bank someday fall to radical rejectionists, it would be nearly impossible for those leaders to break their water ties entirely . . . without creating substantial hardship for their populations.
But the biggest news out of the press conference isn’t what amounts to an update on the Red Sea-Dead Sea project [which has been in the works since 2013]. It 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 highwater mark in Israeli-Palestinian history regarding this precious resource. . . .
[B]eginning 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. Never mind that Israel was scrupulously . . . providing more than half of all the water used by Palestinians in the West Bank. . . . To keep this manufactured water crisis from being exposed as a sham, it was necessary to have Palestinian water projects grind to a halt. Palestinian academics, hydrologists, environmentalists, and others were strongly discouraged from doing water research or working on water projects with Israelis. . . .
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.