Gov’t under fire over trilateral energy-for-water memo

Khasawneh commits to National Water Carrier as a strategic goal

Bisher Khasawneh
Prime Minister Bisher Khasawneh and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Ayman Safadi attend a Lower House session on December 15, 2021. (Photo: Ameer Khalifeh/Jordan News)
AMMAN — The government came under fire on Wednesday as lawmakers denounced last month’s controversial declaration of intent, signed by Jordan, UAE, and Israel to exchange energy for water. The deal, signed in Dubai, aims to have Jordan receive at least 200 million cubic meters of water per year from Israel, in exchange for green electricity produced by a UAE-financed solar plant in the southern Jordanian desert. Prime Minister Bisher Khasawneh and members of his Cabinet were present as a majority of lawmakers voiced their objection to the proposed deal and most attacking the government for engaging in an unpopular form of normalization with Israel.اضافة اعلان

Khasawneh responded to critics by saying that it is incorrect to consider the declaration “as an agreement.” He also stressed that Jordan’s water scarcity issues cannot be ignored, hinting that dire solutions are needed to secure the future of the next generation of Jordanians.

Deputy Tamam Riyati told Jordan News that even if the issue at hand is only a declaration of intent instead of being an official agreement, “this still does not exempt it from criticism by the Jordanian people”. She added: “As a member of Parliament, I am noticing that the full efforts of the Lower House nowadays are being exclusively steered towards vehemently condemning the declaration.”

Riyati also expected that there “might be a vote (by lawmakers) regarding the declaration, although the chances of this vote taking place is dependent on the government’s discretion and whether it will allow such a vote to take place.”

She and other deputies criticized the government’s defense of the proposed deal saying that it was not based on facts and objective analysis but on “emotionally-charged rhetoric” and “appeal to people’s emotions” as Riyati put it. She added that the government had to resort to hyperbolic claims like: “Jordanians might die of thirst in the future if we don’t solve the water crisis.”

While she and other colleagues are not denying that Jordan is facing a serious water scarcity issue, they say that Jordan’s hasn’t done enough to explore other alternative solutions. “There are a number of viable plans and strategies that Jordan should consider,” Riyati said. “If we focus on these strategies, we will surely find some solutions,” she concluded.

On his part Deputy Khalil Attieh told Jordan News that a majority of lawmakers oppose the declaration. “Jordan can resort to local solutions like desalinating Red Sea water to address its water challenges.” In his responding to some queries, Khasawneh recommitted his government to the National Water Carrier as a strategic goal.

“The National Water Carrier Project along with pursuing the need to ensure the delivery of more water from Syria, as part of our share from the Yarmouk River deal are both viable alternatives, but they are by no means the only solutions available,”Attieh said.

He added that he has written a document containing at least 10 alternative solutions, all of which do not involve any deals with Israel, and that “these solutions have the potential to provide Jordan with amounts of water that are three to four times greater than the amounts promised under the declaration.”

Some of the solutions Attieh supports include proposing that the government exploits deep aquifers in areas such as Husban, Swaqqa, and Al-Hassa, claiming that aquifers from these areas could yield up to 50 million cubic meters per year.

He reiterated that Jordanians have the right to protest peacefully against the declaration, and that such right is protected by the Constitution.

Deputy Saleh Armouti, who called for a vote of no confidence in the government, told Jordan News that out of 91 deputies that were present during Wednesday’s debate, 88 were against the declaration, while only three were in favor of it. “There are surely a number of local solutions to solve Jordan’s water crisis without having to rely on the Zionist occupation,” Armouti said.

Jordan’s annual water needs now exceed 1 billion cubic meters with only 40 percent being made available through local resources. Minister of Water Mohammad Al-Najjar told the Lower House that “idea” of the trilateral cooperation was first introduced five months ago and was proposed as a result of the dire water scarcity in Jordan made even worse by climate change.

At the end of the heated debate the Lower House agreed to refer the matter to its Water and Agriculture Committee.

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