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Peace and Dead Sea at a New Low

Two of the three main objectives of the Red Sea-Dead Sea canal project grapple with how to “save the Dead Sea” and “build a symbol of peace in the region.” With Israeli-Palestinians relations and the Dead Sea at an all time low, questions arise whether the 'Red-Dead Canal’ (as it is known in environmental jargon) could save not only the hyper-saline desert lake but peace itself.

If the grand project gets the green light from the World Bank, its implementation will depend on donors’ investment. The international economic climate is not auspicious.

Jordan would be allocated the largest portion of desalinated water with 230 million cubic metres a year (Israel and Palestine would equally be apportioned 60million cubic metres a year), but many Jordanian environmentalists object to the project.

“The whole plan takes place on Jordanian territory,” says Munqeth Mehyar, director of Friends of the Middle East-Amman. “And Jordan is hard-hit by the global economic downturn. That doesn’t bode well for international aid.

“Besides, the project will only employ 1,700 people and only during the peak years of construction,” he says, referring to the World Bank’s feasibility study released in January.

Above all, for the canal to come into existence and thrive, cooperation between the three beneficiaries who share the Dead Sea will be critical. This, in turn, depends on the political situation.

“The water conduit will be vulnerable to terror attacks,” Gidon Bromberg, director of FoEME-Israel warned at a joint press conference in Tel Aviv with his Jordanian counterpart. “The Egyptian gas pipeline destroyed several times is a case in point.”

On the outskirts of the Palestinian oasis town of Jericho just north of the Dead Sea, Palestinian labourers are busy planting date palms in a field which 'belongs’ to an Israeli settlement.

“We have no access to the Dead Sea; it’s occupied land. How could such a canal help us?” says a Palestinian labourer.

“We don’t call the Dead Sea 'occupied’,” retorts Silvan Shalom, the Israeli minister for regional development.

“The canal could lay a strong basis for peace had the Palestinians not been left away from it,” says Mehyar.

This is strongly refuted by Shalom: “If the Palestinian Authority would like to join us, they’re most welcome. But the real partners are Israel and Jordan.”

Comments from all sides point to present and potential conflicts over the project.

For the complete article, please see Inter Press Service.