Trump's Middle East Envoy Announces Water Deal Between Israelis and Palestinians

However, Greenblatt declined to discuss if any progress has been made in getting the two sides back to negotiations, which collapsed in 2014

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Jason Greenblatt (C), Trump's Middle East envoy, sits next to Tzachi Hanegbi (L) and Mazen Ghoneim at a news conference in Jerusalem, July 13, 2017.
Jason Greenblatt (C), Trump's Middle East envoy, sits next to Tzachi Hanegbi (L) and Mazen Ghoneim at a news conference in Jerusalem, July 13, 2017.Credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS

United States President Donald Trump's Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt announced Wednesday that Israel and the Palestinians have reached a water agreement linked to a massive planned Red Sea-Dead Sea pipeline project.

Greenblatt said at a press conference in Jerusalem that the U.S.-mediated deal gives the parched Palestinian territories 32 million cubic meters (42 million cubic yards) of water per year. Israel will start to provide the West Bank and Gaza Strip with the water in the immediate future at a reduced rate.

However, Greenblatt declined to say if he was any closer to a return to negotiations between the two sides that collapsed in 2014.

"Let me interrupt you to save time. We are only taking questions about the Red-Dead [water] project," said Greenblatt, who was a legal adviser to Trump's businesses before being appointed Special Representative for International Negotiations. 

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. Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians first signed a memorandum of understanding for setting up the conduit in December 2013.

Designed to bolster the levels of the shrinking Dead Sea and harness the benefits of desalination, the project will provide drinkable water to Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. The $900 million pipeline is expected to be completed in four or five years.

The desalination plant will produce at least 80 million cubic meters of water annually. Under the agreement signed with Jordan, Israel will buy up to 40 million cubic meters of that at cost each year.

Greenblatt said Israel, whose own desalination plants have led to a water surplus, would sell up to 33 million cubic meters to the Palestinian Authority as part of the finalized agreement signed on Thursday. 

Palestinian Water Authority head Mazen Ghoneim put the figure at 32 million and said 22 million would go to the West Bank while 10 million would go to the Gaza Strip.

The American, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators hope the deal could be a platform for future negotiations.

"We hope that this deal will contribute to the healing of the Dead Sea and that it will help not only Palestinians and Israelis but Jordanians as well," Greenblatt said. 

"I am proud of the role that the United States and our international partners have played in helping the parties reach this deal and I hope it is a harbinger of things to come."

This agreement is not the first energy deal announced between the Israelis and Palestinians this week.

Israel transferred responsibility for a new electrical substation outside the West Bank city of Jenin to the Palestinian Authority on Monday. This is the first time Israel has given the PA ownership of electricity infrastructure.

The Jenin substation won’t produce its own electricity; all the power will continue to come from Israel. But under the agreement signed Monday, the PA will have authority for operating and maintaining the plant, as well as over distribution of the electricity. This facility will help to address the electricity shortages in the north portion of the West Bank.