Israel’s Increased Water for Jordan Is Sign of Improving Relations
Some believe personal Abdullah-Netanyahu animosity stymied growth
Israel will start selling water to Jordan, and significantly increase the kingdom’s exports to Palestinians in the West Bank.
This comes amid Israeli media reports that King Abdullah II and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met secretly in Amman during the last week in June – the first such meeting between the king and an Israeli prime minister in years.
On Thursday, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid joined his counterpart Ayman Safadi in a meeting held just inside the Jordanian border, where the two officials approved Israel’s sale of 50 million cubic meters of water, a major increase over the 30 million cubic meters Jordan receives from Israel under the 1994 peace treaty.
Lapid said the countries also agreed to boost Jordan’s exports to the West Bank to $700 million a year, up from the present level of $160 million.
“The Kingdom of Jordan is an important neighbor and partner,” Lapid said in a statement. “We will broaden economic cooperation for the good of the two countries.”
This was the first meeting between the foreign ministers since Israel formed a new coalition government a month ago, the first in more than a decade without conservative Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the helm.
Jordan is a key security partner for Israel, but relations have deteriorated in recent years over Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
Abdullah staunchly rejected former US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, widely known as the “deal of the century,” which the king saw as a national security threat and undermining the Hashemite custodianship of holy sites in Jerusalem.
Osama al-Sharif, a veteran Jordanian journalist and political commentator, told The Media Line that Jordan is going through a critical water crisis. Sharif says that the latest agreement “contributes to improving relations.”
Oded Eran, a former Israeli ambassador to Amman, told The Media Line that a new chapter is being written in the relationship between Jordan and Israel.
“The meetings on the level of foreign ministers continue, and it’s good that they continue but the problem is on the highest level, the level of his majesty King Abdullah and the former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”
The lack of direct dialogue between them, Eran says, didn’t only impact the ties between the two countries, but has an effect that transcends their borders and impacts the region.
It is no secret that Abdullah and the former Israeli prime minister have poor personal chemistry.
“Yes, the Jordanian-Israeli relationship during the Netanyahu era has reached its lowest point in decades,” says Al-Sharif.
The king has refused to speak or meet with Netanyahu. Al-Sharif says that in one instance earlier this year, relations grew so bad that Jordan refused to allow Netanyahu’s airplane to use Jordanian air space, thwarting what was intended to have been his first-ever visit to the United Arab Emirates.
A palace insider speaking anonymously told The Media Line the bad blood between the two leaders is overstated and exaggerated. He said, “the Jordanian-Israeli relations are stable, but when there is tension in Al-Aqsa Mosque it reflects on the ties badly.”
The source says that the king believed that Netanyahu’s interest in meeting with him was to advance his political career and to use it in the campaign.
“The relation between the two countries is between institutions and doesn’t get affected easily.”
But Al-Sharif says relations between the two neighbors now can only go in one direction.
“It is possible to say that the only direction for the relationship now is to move to the higher and better, and the agreement that was signed to provide Jordan with fifty cubic meters of water will lead to the reform of relations after what they have been exposed to in recent years.”
He adds that the newfound energy in the relations can be credited to the efforts of the new American administration, and to the new government and prime minister in Israel.
“The role of the US administration is very important as it seeks to improve the relationship between the two parties by stimulating joint cooperation, such as the issue of water.”
The former ambassador agrees.
“There’s no doubt the former president of the United States injected tensions between the two governments in the past because the outgoing Israeli government supported the ideas presented by the previous administration in the form of ‘deal of the century,’ as we used to call it.”
King Abdullah is scheduled to meet with US President Joe Biden at the White House on July 19, when he will become the first Arab leader to meet with the president since he was sworn in last January.
“I think the president of the United States will find it constructive to have the two leaders meet and discuss important issues like water, trade and energy and help them find strategic solutions that can help on the political level.”