The agreement reached between Lapid and Safadi builds on Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s decision to sell up to 50 cubic meters of water to Jordan during the current water year, Lapid said.
THE KINNERET, Israel’s sole natural drinking water source(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett secretly met with Jordan’s King Abdullah at his palace in Amman last week, as the two countries finalize a major water deal in advance of their separate trips to Washington later this summer.
The story of the meeting was reported widely Thursday by the Israeli media but was not confirmed by Bennett’s office.
Such meetings between former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and King Abdullah were rare and had not happened for a number years due to rising tensions between the two countries. Last week Bennett and Abdullah agreed that the two countries must heal that rift. As a step in that direction they spoke of a water deal.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday publicly visited Jordan to help finalize the water deal and a separate deal to increase trade levels.
“The Kingdom of Jordan is a neighbor and partner of the State of Israel. The Foreign Ministry will continue to hold an ongoing dialogue in order to preserve and strengthen that relationship,” Lapid said, according to a statement put out by his office.
“We will expand economic cooperation for the benefit of both countries,” he added.
Israel plans to sell 50 million cu.m. of water to Jordan, in what could be a short term annual allocation. Such a move would augment the 55 million cu.m. yearly allotment guaranteed to Jordan under the 1994 peace between the two countries.
Additional water offers have been rare. In 2010 Israel allowed Jordan to purchase 10 million cu.m. and in April, a 3 million cu.m. purchase was approved.
Bennett already gave his initial approval to the deal, which was cemented when Lapid met with his Jordanian counterpart, Ayman Safadi, on Thursday.
“Final details will be worked out by the professional teams in the coming days,” the Foreign Ministry said.
The new Bennett-led government has sought to improve the relationship with its regional ally, viewed as essential to Israel’s national security.
Over the last year Defense Minister Benny Gantz and former foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi worked on damage control measures with their neighbor.
Israel’s gestures are expected to help Jordan combat its economic woes and drought which have threatened to destabilize the Hashemite Kingdom.
While in Jordan Lapid also agreed to increase Jordan’s export level to Palestinians in the West Bank from $160 million to $700m. annually.
Some $470m. of that sum “will be included under Palestinian trade regulations (List A1), with the rest handled in accordance with Israel’s trade regulations (List B),” the Foreign Ministry said.
“The increase will be decided by the parties in accordance with the Paris Protocol, which provides the economic framework for trade between Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” it added.
Lapid’s trip is seen as a precursor to this summer’s Washington visits. No date has yet been set for Bennett’s trip.
But King Abdullah of Jordan will arrive in Washington on July 19 to meet with US President Joe Biden, the White House announced on Wednesday.
“The President and the First Lady look forward to welcoming His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan, Her Majesty Queen Rania, and His Royal Highness Crown Prince Hussein to the White House,” the official statement reads. “His Majesty’s visit will highlight the enduring and strategic partnership between the United States and Jordan, a key security partner and ally of the United States.”
“It will be an opportunity to discuss the many challenges facing the Middle East and showcase Jordan’s leadership role in promoting peace and stability in the region,” the White House said. “President Biden looks forward to working with His Majesty to strengthen bilateral cooperation on multiple political, security and economic issues, including the promotion of economic opportunities that will be vital for a bright future in Jordan.”
David Makovsky, director of the Koret Project on Arab-Israel relations at the Washington Institute, told The Jerusalem Post that he believed the visit “reflects that to be among the first Arab leaders to visit – even if a half year since taking office – Biden wants to signal his support for the Hashemite Kingdom that is viewed as a pro-American ally.”
“While security ties remain excellent, I am sure the administration hopes that personal ties will improve in the post-Netanyahu era between the leadership of Jordan and Israel,” said Makovsky.
Tensions, however, were still evident during Lapid’s visit with Safadi regarding points of conflict between the two countries: the Temple Mount, Jerusalem and West Bank settlements.
Jordan has a special relationship with the Temple Mount – also known as al-Haram al-Sharif – which is the third holiest site in Islam, over which the Hashemite Kingdom has custodial responsibilities.
Jordan fears that Israel wants to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, that allows only Muslim worship while banning Jewish prayer.
According to the Jordan News Agency, Safadi spoke with Lapid of the need to preserve the Temple Mount’s status quo. He urged Lapid not to allow the eviction of Palestinians from the east Jerusalem Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, warning that it would be a war crime.
Safadi also emphasized the importance of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the pre-1967 lines with east Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital.
The former Netanyahu government had opposed any two-state resolution based on the pre-1967 lines, while former prime minister Ehud Olmert had supported that basic framework.
Bennett’s government is made up of parties that support and oppose a two-state arrangement based on the 1967 lines. Bennett himself is opposed to a Palestinian state, while Lapid favors one, but neither want a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines.
Maariv contributed to this report