As Oscar Wilde semi-famously wrote in Lady Windermere’s Fan: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” Of course, the Middle East is not a four-act comedic play about a Victorian mother and daughter who are knocking boots with the same man (although sometimes it feels that way, nu?). Nevertheless, it seems important, extremely important, to note good things when they happen. If outrage (real or manufactured) can be summoned on a daily basis, why not take a holiday and summon some goodwill?
With that grandiose thing said, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Jordan inked a deal yesterday to build a pipeline between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea. The deal was signed in Washington, D.C., and will help provide drinking water to all three parties as well as help revive the Dead Sea, which has been slowly drying up for years (or ever since tour guides started warning visitors against peeing in it).
The project will bring about 100 million cubic meters of water a year from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea to slow the drying up of the latter. It also will establish a seawater desalination plant in Aqaba, Jordan, to provide fresh water annually for all three signatories.
The World Bank is financing the project at a cost of $200 million to $400 million, with the three signatories to repay the bridge loans being used.
Silvan Shalom, who is Israel’s Minister of Energy and Water (it seems big deal when there’s a water minister), likened the deal to a dream of Herzl’s, by which he may have meant to “make the desert bloom,” but perhaps he meant more than that.
Sure, there were some detractors, but they were largely pessimistic about the deal on environment grounds.
Eli Raz, a geologist and biologist at Israel’s Dead Sea and Arava Science Center, praised the project as a symbol of regional cooperation, but said it would do little to alleviate the Dead Sea’s woes. The Dead Sea is losing roughly 1 billion cubic meters of water each year, he said, while the project would only return about 10 percent of that amount.
“As a symbol, it’s very good. In respect for the Dead Sea, the deficit, the water balance, this is nothing,” he said.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry is returning to the region (yet again) for the second time in two weeks to press the Israelis and Palestinians on their flagging peace talks as well as continue to sell Israel on the Iran deal. Here’s what Kerry said at the JDC Centennial:
Kerry, who said he speaks two to three times a week with Netanyahu, addressed the peace talks. “I believe, as President Obama does, that Israel will be far more secure if we can also put to test the possibilities of the two-state solution. And so we will continue to attempt to do that despite the skepticism, despite the cynicism in some quarters.”
Kerry also swore again that the United States will not let Iran build a nuclear weapon. For more fanciful thinking on the dream of elusive peace, check out Jeffrey Goldberg’s thought experiment in which he argues that Israel should offer the Palestinians exactly what they want (with the previously established parameters in mind) to test them as a true partner for peace.