Israel okays Jordanian request for water after several weeks’ delay

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved this week Jordan’s request for additional water from the Jordan River after several weeks of delay.

The request was submitted a few weeks ago through the joint Israeli-Jordanian water committee, as Jordan was experiencing a water shortage. Netanyahu originally delayed approval due to escalating tension between Jerusalem and Amman.

In recent days, Netanyahu responded to recommendations by Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz and Water Authority officials to comply with the request, Haaretz reported Monday.

The Biden administration also encouraged Israel to approve the Hashemite kingdom’s request, the Walla news site reported.

Following the boost from Israel, there will be additional requests for water from Jordan, which is suffering a serious shortage, the Kan public broadcaster reported Tuesday, citing unnamed Jordanian sources.

Last month, when Netanyahu first delayed approval, unnamed Israeli sources said to have close contacts with the Jordanians expressed concern over the strained ties between Jerusalem and Amman, accusing Netanyahu of endangering the peace agreement due to the animosity between him and the Jordanian royal family.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, during the former’s surprise visit to Amman on January 16, 2014 (AP/Yousef Allan/Jordanian Royal Palace)

Relations between Jerusalem and Amman became frosty after Netanyahu’s planned visit to the United Arab Emirates for the first official trip by an Israeli leader, half a year after the countries established formal relations, was scrapped last month over difficulties coordinating the flight to the UAE over Jordanian airspace.

Shortly before that incident, Jordan’s Crown Prince Hussein canceled a visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, a sensitive holy site under Jordanian custodianship, due to disagreements with Israel over security arrangements.

Israeli sources asserted the premier was ignoring the strategic value of Israel’s relations with Jordan, noting that the deployment of Jordanian forces along their shared border allows the Israeli military to station fewer troops there.

Haaretz also said Jordan wants Israel’s help in securing coronavirus vaccines, but that Netanyahu had left it off a list of countries included in a now-halted initiative to supply doses to friendly nations.

According to the 1994 peace agreement between the two countries, Israel regularly provides Jordan with water that it draws from the Jordan River. Jordan often asks for additional boosts, which Israel usually approves without delay.

Despite Israeli officials backing the water transfer, Netanyahu and the National Security Council delayed responding to the request until this week.

A Syrian man fills a bucket with water inside Zaatari, the largest camp for Syrian refugees in Mafraq, Jordan, February 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)

Based on a report from 2019, Jordan is one of the most water-starved countries in the world. It draws nearly 60 percent of its water from underground aquifers, extracting at twice the rate that the groundwater can be renewed. The rest comes from rivers and streams.

In the capital, Amman, water is supplied to rooftop tanks once a week; other areas of the country are supplied even less frequently.

According to one estimate, Jordan’s water is enough to sustain two million people, in a country that has close to ten million — a figure swelled over the past decade by 1.5 million refugees, most of them fleeing civil war in neighboring Syria.

Lack of data, insufficient groundwater monitoring, poor infrastructure maintenance leading to leaks, and massive theft of water through thousands of illegally dug wells only exacerbate the shortages there.

Sue Surkes contributed to this report.

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