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Jordan faces public discontent as Israel weaponises its water supply

Jordanian King Abdullah II reacts as he delivers a speech at the European Parliament, on January 15, 2020, in Strasbourg, eastern France [FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP via Getty Images]
Jordanian King Abdullah II reacts as he delivers a speech at the European Parliament, on January 15, 2020, in Strasbourg, eastern France [FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP via Getty Images]

Relations between Jordan and Israel are tense at the moment, for a number of reasons. The Hashemite Kingdom, for example, sought to hinder Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to annex the Jordan Valley last year, which covers around 30 per cent of the occupied West Bank. In response, the occupation state has interfered with Jordan's legal guardianship of religious sites in Jerusalem. Importantly, as summer approaches, Israel has also thrown water supplies into the fray.

In short, Israel is weaponising the water supplied to Jordan in order to persuade the government in Amman to backpedal on its opposition to the annexation plan. In doing so, it is fomenting discontent within the Kingdom.

The 1994 peace treaty between the two countries was supposed to be a comprehensive and permanent agreement covering all water issues between Israel and Jordan. It recognised fair water allocations for each party from the Rivers Jordan and Yarmouk as well as the groundwater in Wadi Araba, in accordance with accepted principles based on the quantities and quality indicated in the appendix to the peace deal, which are intended to be respected and complied with in their entirety.

The agreement stipulates that Israel will supply Jordan with 35 million cubic metres of the water that it takes from the River Jordan. As one of the driest countries in the world, the Kingdom sometimes asks for more, requests to which Israel often responds positively. Water taken from Lake Tiberias depends on rainfall, and so the amount varies annually.

Despite the approval of Israeli security and water officials, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been dragging his heels on letting water supplies go to Jordan, which has escalated the crisis with the neighbouring state. A recent reminder from the US was necessary to push Netanyahu into allowing an increased quota to go to the Kingdom.

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This could well have been due to the adverse public reaction in Jordan to the fact that it is having to pay for 8 million cubic metres of water from Israel. It is in the occupation state's interests to have a stable neighbour on the East Bank of the all-important River Jordan.

A spokesman for the Jordanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation, Omar Salama, confirmed that the ministry had received Israel's approval for the request to purchase additional water supplies. Salama told local media that the government will need the extra, "Given the critical situation we will go through this summer."

His statement sparked angry reactions among Jordanians, many of whom believe that the deal is a violation of the peace treaty, which does not stipulate that water should be bought or sold by either party. This has prompted social media activists to call for the treaty to be cancelled. Jordan, they insist, has a right to the water resources, which should not be Israel's to sell.

Jordanian politicians and national personalities told Rai Al-Youm that the government can make a breakthrough by taking a strong position and withdrawing from the peace agreement. Furthermore, Amman could also stop importing Israeli gas.

They point out that the latest crisis coincides with a crucial and sensitive period in Jordan's history. This means that the wisest move would be to reduce pressure on the domestic front as protests continue against the challenging economic conditions and there is popular discontent with the government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic alongside an unprecedented spread of corruption.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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