Washington: Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians have signed a "historic" water-sharing initiative at the World Bank in Washington that could protect the Dead Sea from rising demand for water in the region.
The project envisions a new desalination plant at Aqaba as the lynchpin of a sharing deal linking the Red and Dead Seas and Lake Tiberias and end-users in all three parties to the deal.
"It gives a glimmer of hope that we can overcome more obstacles in the future," said Sylvan Shalom, Israel`s Minister of Energy and Water Resources at the signing yesterday."
"We showed that we can work together despite the political problems," said the Palestinian water minister, Shaddad Attili.
The deal capped 11 years of negotiations and came as the United States pushes a new effort to forge a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians.
The pact, signed at the World Bank`s headquarters in Washington, will see Jordan providing 50 million cubic litres of desalinated water to Israel`s Red Sea resort of Eilat.
In exchange, the Jewish state will provide northern Jordan with the same amount of water from the Sea of Galilee.
It will also see Israel raising its annual sales of water to the Palestinian Authority by 20-30 million cubic metres a year, up from the current level of 52 million cubic metres.
Earlier Shalom told Israel`s army radio that under the agreement, water will be drawn from the Gulf of Aqaba at the northern end of the Red Sea.
He also noted the economic aspects of supplying cheap desalinated water to neighbouring states, the environmental angle of "saving the Dead Sea" and the "strategic-diplomatic" aspect of the deal, coming amid the struggling peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
"This is a breakthrough after many years of efforts," he told the radio station. "It is nothing less than a historic move."
He said that the next step would be an international tender for the entire project - building the desalination plant in Aqaba and laying the first of the four pipes for transporting the water.
An environmental group, Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME), said the project as outline has significant problems, including the handling of the brine from the desalination plant.
The plan envisions experimenting with mixing the brine with water in the Dead Sea.
"Minister Shalom needs to recognise that the canal project is not environmentally nor economically sound, and any attempt to connect the subject of the Dead Sea are only doing damage to other sensible projects of water exchange," the group said in a statement.