Noting 'Trump Effect,' Former U.S. Officials Praise Israeli-Palestinian Water Deal

Experts who worked for both Republican and Democratic administration on the issue in the past say agreement shows both sides are willing to demonstrate their good intentions to Trump

A Palestinian man sells drinking water in Khan Younis refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, April 16, 2016.
A Palestinian man sells drinking water in Khan Younis refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, April 16, 2016. AP / Khalil Hamra

Former American officials who have previously worked on the Israeli-Palestinian issue expressed support on Thursday for the new water agreement announced by Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The agreement was announced in Jerusalem during a press conference attended by Jason Greenblatt, the special envoy working to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace on behalf of President Donald Trump.

Officials for former Republican and Democratic administrations had praise for Greenblatt, who said in Jerusalem that the U.S.-mediated deal gives the parched Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza 32 million cubic meters (42 million cubic yards) of water per year. That water will eventually be supplied by a desalination plant linked to the Red Sea-Dead Sea pipeline project, agreed on between Jordan and Israel in 2015.

"This is positive news," Dan Shapiro, the American ambassador to Israel under the Obama administration, told Haaretz. "It's more than just a signing ceremony, and if implemented, it will address some real water needs now, and more in the future when the pipeline is completed." Shapiro added that "Both sides are trying to show they can be reasonable and do mutually beneficial deals. I would attribute that partially to a Trump effect, in which the parties want to generate positive results (that don't require major concessions) to stay on his good side."

According to Shapiro, "probably any new administration would have that advantage, but the fear factor with Trump gives Greenblatt some added leverage. I hope he'll use it for more than just water and electricity deals, like getting negotiations relaunched on a realistic basis."

Martin Indyk, who was U.S. ambassador to Israel under the Clinton administration and later served as the head of the American peace team under Secretary of State John Kerry, also praised the agreement. "It was years in the making and will be years before it is implemented, but it's a positive step in a sea of negativity - and Jason Greenblatt deserves credit for that," he said. 

Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Robert Danin told Haaretz that the agreement is encouraging: "It shows both the Israelis and Palestinians want to cooperate on limited measures on the ground that are mutually beneficial, and in doing so demonstrate their good intentions to the Trump Administration." 

Danin, who also served as the head of the International Quartet office in Jerusalem, added that the agreement, at the same time, "has little implications for the deal that President Trump seeks. So long as there are no real negotiations taking place, such limited steps to help the Palestinians on the ground can be advanced. But once serious negotiations begin – and that itself is a big if – then these sorts of measures are likely to become much more contentious."

Dan Kurtzer, who was the ambassador to Israel under George W. Bush, praised Greenblatt for "focusing on making progress on the ground" ahead of re-launching peace talks. "This is better at the current stage than trying to organize a big summit or diving into negotiations," he added. Kurtzer also said, however, that the administration will soon have to present principles for talks in order to make further progress with both sides: "They will have to address end-game question."