For the past two weeks, Israel’s Energy Minister Israel Katz has been actively promoting what seems to have become a major component of his regional policy: supplying Israel’s Arab neighbors with water and energy, in a bid to warm relations with them.
Katz announced on X (formerly Twitter) that Israel will increase gas exports to Egypt, which has seen its own production fall by 12 percent in the last two years.
Notably, Katz visited Abu Dhabi two weeks ago to continue one of the by-products of the Abraham Accords: a trilateral agreement under which Israel is to export desalinated water to Jordan.
In return, Jordan will supply Israel with solar electricity, via a field of photovoltaic panels financed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
An initial memorandum of understanding was ratified at the end of 2021, which was followed by a second at COP 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh in 2022. This time, the three parties plan to finalize the signature of the agreement at COP 28, slated to be held at the end of November in Dubai.
“For the UAE, this is above all a question of greening their image by showing that they are taking part in a green initiative, three months before COP 28,” said Nadim Farajallah, Director of the Environment and Climate Change Program at the Issam Fares Institute of the American University of Beirut (AUB).
Masdar, a company specialized in renewable energies, is in charge of building the solar panel field. It is headed by Sultan al-Jaber, the controversial CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC).
ADNOC is set to evenly split the annual earnings of $180 million with Jordan.
By receiving 200 million cubic meters of water a year from Israel in exchange for 600 megawatts of solar electricity, the “Prosperity Project” looks more like a survival deal for Jordan, 92 percent of which is desert land and where water is scarce.
Another agreement, The Red Sea-Dead Sea, is a similar initiative that was abolished five months before it was set to be implemented, in June 2021.
The project involved transporting water from the Red Sea via a pipeline planned to link the Jordanian coastal city of Aqaba to the Lisan region of the Dead Sea, whose levels have been falling steadily for years.
Concurrently, the project aimed to increase the supply of desalinated water to Israel and the West Bank.
There have been, however, concerns about the project’s costs and environmental impact. Some expert reports also warned of the possibility of the development of red algae in the Dead Sea, after receiving water of a different composition from the Red Sea.
But Farjallah doesn’t believe this argument to be true. “Have you seen the salinity level in the Dead Sea? Nothing can survive there,” he said.
He believed the project was cancelled so the West Bank would be excluded.
“It would have given them [the Palestinians] some sort of autonomy, whereas Israel currently controls 80 percent of their access to water,” Farjallah said. “It’s a powerful tool.”
‘Look, we’re a benevolent nation’
By 2030, Israel’s goal is to increase its renewable energy ( to 30 and diversify its energy sources, which it draws primarily from large natural gas reservoirs from the Mediterranean Sea.
The Prosperity Project would hardly contribute to these goals.
The benefit it stands to gain are above all, political. Israel is in full pursuit of its goal of normalization with Saudi Arabia and is working to warm relations with its other neighbors — a mission made difficult with the increase of violence against Palestinians, which has worsened since the country fell into the hands of its most right-wing government in its history.
“For Israel, this project is a way of saying: ‘look, we’re a benevolent nation; you see when you make peace with us, we’re good neighbors, we'll give you water at a cheap rate,’” Farjallah said.
According to Farjallah, Israel’s ability to use nuclear power for the energy-intensive desalination process means that the project can be carried out at a lower cost.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians remain the biggest losers in this deal, which does not include their territories.
“None of these agreements [neither the Abraham’s Accord nor the Prosperity Project] set conditions for Israel to withdraw from the occupied Palestinian territories or to consider [Palestinians’] right to water in exchange for normalization,” said Marwa Daoudy, associate professor at Georgetown University, specialized in the geopolitics of water.
“In the long term, I don’t think this exclusionary approach will serve any of the countries concerned from a national and regional security point of view,” she added.
This is one of the reasons the Israeli-Palestinian NGO EcoPeace initially proposed a similar water project that included the West Bank and even the Gaza Strip.
In 2017, two years after roundtable discussions with Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian experts and political representatives, the organization presented its plan before the European Union and Germany, in hopes of gaining political support.
“We wanted to create a win-win situation, instill stability, and build trust between the parties,” said Nada Majdalani, director of the NGO’s Ramallah office. “But the timing and political context that followed led to the Palestinians being sidelined.”
Two things brought EcoPeace’s plan to a halt.
The first was the Abraham Accords. The agreement was officiated in September 2020 under the aegis of the United States, through which the UAE normalized its relations with Israel.
“There was a desire to highlight the importance of the Abraham Accords, at a time when relations between the UAE and the Palestinian Authority (PA) were also strained,” said Majdalani.
“Including the Palestinians would have required a great deal of discussion and negotiation,” she added, which would further complicate the process.
Second, the election of Naftali Bennett as prime minister in 2021, who succeeded Benjamin Netanyahu who had cold ties with the Jordanian crown, also changed the situation.
Bennett made it a priority to reach out to the Jordanians, with whom Israel had maintained a cold peace since 1994.
Bennett offered to double water exports from Israel. It was also during his tenure that the Prosperity Memorandum of Understanding was signed.
Palestinians access to water sources is becoming increasingly limited.
Palestinians who live in areas administered by Israel, i.e. 60 percent of the West Bank (Area C), are disconnected from Israeli and Palestinian water networks, particularly in the Jordan Valley.
The 490,000 or so settlers residing in the West Bank, however, are directly connected to Israeli infrastructure.
“The amount of water Israel provides has not adapted to the needs of the Palestinians and, in many cases, has not changed since the 1970s,” said Eyal Hareuveni, author of a recent report on the water crisis by the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, quoted by the Associated Press.
“The infrastructure is designed to benefit the settlements,” the report said.
In the pastoralist communities in the northern Jordan Valley, Palestinians consume just 26 liters of water a day, compared with an average of 400 to 700 liters per capita in the Israeli settlements in the same valley, stated the report.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Sahar Ghoussoub.