Israel and Jordan in secret talks to revive Red Sea-Dead Sea project

Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz held a secret meeting with Jordanian Water Minister, Raed Abu-Saood, last month to restart the stalled Red Sea-Dead Sea project.

The Red Sea-Dead Sea project was created to increase Jordan’s fresh water supply and reverse the decline in the Dead Sea’s water level by building a canal linking the Red Sea and the Dead Sea. There was already an agreement between Israel and Jordan to build a desalination plant in Aqaba, which would supply water to Jordan and to Israel’s Arava Desert. The unused salt water from the Aqaba plant, created during the desalination process, would then be pumped into the Dead Sea.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised concerns about the cost of the project and asked for alternative options, but the Jordanians still wanted the project to continue and the Trump administration pressed Israel to move forward with the deal or propose an alternative.

In the secret talks last month, Steinitz presented a cheaper alternative to the Red-Dead project. In the new proposal Israel would build a desalination plant in Aqaba, but would not build the expensive pipeline linking the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. Israel would instead transfer the salt water from the desalination plant to the Dead Sea by other means. The Jordanians responded positively to the new proposal. Steinitz confirmed that the meeting took place but declined to comment further.

In October, Jordan’s King Abdullah II announced that that he would not be renewing the 25-year lease clause in the 1994 bilateral peace treaty that allows Israel to use two small areas of territory along the border. Facing mounting domestic political pressure to cancel the lease, he said that by refusing to renew the lease, Jordan was:“Practicing our full sovereignty on our land. Our priority in these regional circumstances is to protect our interests and do whatever is required for Jordan and the Jordanians”.

In response, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that while he was open to negotiating the specific deal, the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty is “an agreement of true peace… We will enter into negotiations with Jordan to extend the existing agreement, but the entire agreement from a comprehensive perspective is important and dear to both countries”.