Jordan and Israel Join UAE to Sign a Historic Solar Energy-for-Water Deal

Jordan and Israel Join UAE to Sign a Historic Solar Energy-for-Water Deal

Towards the end of November, Israel, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates signed a historic resource sharing agreement in the biggest display of regional cooperation ever undertaken between Israel and its Arab neighbors. With funding and solar technology from the UAE, the deal establishes a solar farm in Jordan which will provide electricity to Israel. In exchange, Israel will provide water to Jordan, building a desalination plant on its Mediterranean coast. In addition to representatives from Israel, Jordan, and the UAE, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry attended the deal’s signing in Dubai. 

After Jordan’s hottest summer on record and a historic drought, securing water is a necessity for Jordan’s population. Earlier this month, Jordanian officials reported that 6 of Jordan’s 17 dams have already dried up. With no coastline and limited desalination capacity, Jordan’s wealthy Arab neighbors have also failed to offer low-cost water to the Kingdom. 

Public Opinion

Despite these environmental and economic constraints, the Jordanian populace remains hostile towards Israel. With Palestinians comprising the majority of Jordan’s population, public opinion is overwhelmingly negative towards Israel and the Israeli-Jordanian peace agreement. It is notable that the resource sharing deal, which is bound to increase Jordan’s dependence on Israel for water, was negotiated by Jordan’s foreign minister and approved by the King. The Jordanian populace was not given a seat at the table. Following the deal’s signing, hundreds of protestors poured into the streets of Amman, lambasting the agreement and the Israeli occupation. Al Jazeera reported several peaceful protestors were arrested during the demonstration. 

Among Palestinians, the division of natural resources is a contentious issue. In the wake of the 1967 six-day war, Israeli forces began occupying Gaza and the West Bank. The Israeli occupation included control of water resources in the territories. Today, in the occupied Palestinian Territory of the West Bank, Israel directly controls 85 percent of the water resources. To dig wells, the Palestinian Authority must receive authorization from Israel with many Palestinian human rights groups viewing this dynamic as akin to theft

However, over the past decade, green technology has transformed the conflict over water from a zero-sum game into a more nuanced negotiation. Israel’s increased desalination capacity means that its population is no longer reliant on fresh water sources. Instead, as the New York Times reported in 2015, over half of the water used in Israel is artificially produced, including desalinated seawater and recycled wastewater

A Political Move

In Israel, the agreement carries more political than practical significance. Unlike Jordan’s urgent need to secure water for its population, Israel does not have a similarly dire need for the electricity that it will receive through the agreement. The solar-powered electricity from Jordan will only meet about 2-3% of Israel’s electricity needs. Instead, the move is a sign to Israelis that the new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will improve ties with Jordan. The two nations have never been particularly close, maintaining what Jordan’s King Abdullah has described as a “cold peace.” Relations between the two Levantine nations significantly deteriorated this summer, culminating with Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah of Jordan cancelling a trip to pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. 

In bringing Jordan and Israel together in support of this initiative, the UAE is demonstrating its capacity to play a more active leadership role in the field of climate change, diplomacy, and resource management. H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister commented that 

the UAE is pleased to play a role in bringing Israel and Jordan together in an initiative that reinforces both countries’ climate security and common interests. This declaration is just one of the positive outcomes of the Abraham Accord.” 

The deal is also another demonstration of the lucrative and practical benefits to be gained from engagement with Israel. Since signing the Abraham Accords, Israeli ventures have begun the process of supplying investment to Emirati technology firms, tourism has increased, and bilateral trade between the UAE and Israel has reached $700 million dollars. However, these benefits come with a sacrifice. While the UAE hoped to serve as an intermediary between Israel and Palestine, particularly during this summer’s attacks, the Gulf nation has lost significant credibility among Palestinians. With its recognition of Israel and increasing economic collaboration, the UAE has lost much of its leverage to advocate for Palestinian human rights and statehood. 


Although Americans remain ostensibly committed to the prospect of a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, the deal also comes as a sign that Arab nations in the region are continuing their rapprochement with Israel. Saudi Arabia continues its covert engagement with Israel, signaling that it may follow a similar path to the UAE. In the wake of Donald Trump’s moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, the prospects of realizing a two-state solution are bleaker than ever. 

Among Jordan’s populace, the impact of the deal remains to be seen. One possibility is that the resource sharing agreement bolsters stability between the two Levantine neighbors, averting a future environmental catastrophe. Under this path, the deal could follow the model established by the European Coal and Steel Community, which used trade to avert a future Franco-German conflict after World War II. Another likely outcome is that the resource sharing agreement has an opposite effect on Jordanian stability, as the Kingdom’s majority Palestinian population grows increasingly alienated and provoked by the Hashemite monarchy. 

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