(Amman) Several Jordanian political and grassroots leaders have expressed strong opposition to the declaration of intent signed this week by Jordan, Israel and the United Arab Emirates – with the United States as a sponsor, that will see Jordan trade its solar power for desalinized water from Israel.
Mohammad Al-Najjar, Jordan’s water minister, noted that the declaration of intent does not cancel work on a national water carrier, which aims to provide some 300 million cubic meters of drinking water annually. Najjar said in a statement on Tuesday that the declaration of intent is “not connected with the peace agreement (with Israel) and is not obligatory on Jordan.” He also said that while “Jordan is not building its water strategy on this declaration, if it is turned into an agreement, it will be presented to the parliament for approval.”
Jordan’s water situation has reached a deficit of 40 million cubic meters in 2021, Bashar Bataineh, the secretary-general of the Water Authority of Jordan, said in an official statement. Bataineh also told a parliamentary committee that “the water deficit in the capital has reached 20 million cubic meters,” referring to the city of Amman, which has a population of some 4 million people.
Omar Salameh, the assistant to the secretary-general and spokesman for Jordan’s Water Ministry, said that the signing of the declaration of intent means that a serious study of the project’s viability will take place in 2022 and it is possible that, as a result of this agreement, Jordan will receive 200 million cubic meters of water annually. He insisted that the declaration is not yet an agreement from a legal and technical point of view. He also noted that Jordan will not carry out the agreement unless it gets the amount of water it needs annually.
Salameh says that the idea of the declaration came as a result of Jordan’s increased water needs, which have escalated due to the increase in the country’s population and the need for water for industry and agriculture, as well as for other sectors.
Normalization is rejected in principle and now water security is being handed to them the same way that the gas deal was made. This is very dangerous on a long-term strategic level
Jordan already asked for some water help from Israel in October, signing an agreement to buy an additional 50 million cubic meters of water a year from Israel on top of the 35 cubic meters a year it is receiving as a result of the 1994 peace treaty. In 2010, another 10 million cubic meters were added for Jordan over the amount agreed to in the peace treaty. The rest of the country’s water comes from aquifers.
An individual in Jordan uses about 80 cubic meters while the world average per person is 500 cubic meters, according to Jordan’s Water Authority.
One hour after the public announcement of the deal, the Bani Hassan tribe, the largest tribe in Jordan, protested in Zarqa in northeast Jordan, burning tires and temporarily blocking roads in protest against the agreement, seen as another sign of normalization with Israel, which it rejects. The National Forum for the support of the resistance, a wide national coalition, has called for a major demonstration this week starting in downtown Amman after Friday’s noon prayers. The slogan of the protest march will be: “A rejection of the shameful water-for-electricity agreement signed by the government with the Zionist enemy.”
Both the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority and the Gaza-based Hamas movement refused a request from The Media Line for a comment on the agreement.
Jordanian lawmaker Yanal Freihat, a member of the Lower House of Parliament, sent an urgent parliamentary question requesting a copy of the agreement and asking: “Did the government study the effect of this agreement on the kingdom’s national security?” She followed up with another question: “Does (it make sense to put) our strategic needs for water in the hands of ‘the enemy,’ who is occupying Palestine and continues to annex parts of the West Bank including the Jordan Valley?”
The parliamentarian said that some members of the Israeli government are refusing any solution to the Palestinian cause, while others are publicly saying that the Palestinian cause can be solved in the light of the Jordan agreement. She argued that some in Israel would “like to revive the Jordan-is-Palestine scheme,” which is totally unacceptable, she said.
Dr. Anis Kassim, an international lawyer and publisher of the Palestine Yearbook of International Law, told The Media Line that the Jordan-UAE-Israel deal will make Jordan “a hostage to the expansionist aims and extortionist goals of Israel.” According to Kassim, by placing the vital needs of Jordan in the hands of the Israelis they could use this tool to pressure Jordan into making political concessions. He argued that this would be a back-door effort to bring Jordan into the Abraham Accords.
Former Member of Parliament Kais Zayadin, now a member of the royal commission on modernizing political systems, told The Media Line that the issue is one of principle. “Normalization is rejected in principle and now water security is being handed to them the same way that the gas deal was made. This is very dangerous on a long-term strategic level,” he said.
Freihat told The Media Line that “this is a new challenge to the Jordanian parliament and the new speaker, Abdel Karim Doughmi, to force the government to present any water-for-electricity agreement to the parliament for approval based on Article 33 of the constitution.” Article 33 states: “Treaties and agreements which involve financial commitments to the Treasury or affect the public or private rights of Jordanians shall not be valid unless approved by the National Assembly. In no circumstances shall any secret terms contained in any treaty or agreement be contrary to their overt terms.”
Abdallah Sawalha, a Jordanian-based analyst and director of the Center for Israel Studies in Amman, told The Media Line that this is the first Abraham Agreement project that aims to address the concerns of Jordanians in which the Abraham coalition is bypassing Jordan’s role.
“This agreement aims at reversing the idea of separate processes which, in the past, separated economics from politics and worked on a bilateral basis,” he said. Sawalha argues that the agreement “gives Jordan new negotiating cards to use in dealing with Israel and will open the way for a major rail project that will connect Haifa through Jenin, Jordan and to Saudi Arabia.”
Sawalha also noted that while the Biden administration was initially hesitant about some aspects of the Abraham Accords, “it is clear now that it is working hard to strengthen and to expand its participants.”
Hisham Bustani, director of the Jordanian National Campaign Against the Gas Agreement With the Zionist Entity, told The Media Line that “this latest move is yet another act that gives the Zionist entity the country and its citizens. This is not just political or governmental normalization, this is a forced normalization for every citizen, leaving them under the Zionist hegemony.”