AMMAN: Jordan’s lower house of parliament on Wednesday referred the “energy-for-water” agreement the kingdom signed with Israel to its agriculture committee for consultations with experts before giving its final say on the controversial deal.
Of the 130-strong house, a total of 91 lawmakers took the podium during Wednesday’s special session on the deal, with the majority of them attacking the government for striking the agreement with Israel and suggesting other alternative solutions for the country’s water woes.
On Nov. 22, Jordan signed a declaration of intent with Israel and the UAE to explore the feasibility of a joint energy-for-water project. The declaration was signed at Expo 2020 Dubai by Jordan’s Minister of Water and Irrigation Mohammad Al-Najjar, the UAE’s Minister of Climate Change and Environment Mariam Al-Mheiri, and Israel’s Energy Minister Karine Elharrar.
Addressing the house, Prime Minister Bishr Al-Khasawneh reiterated that the declaration of intent was “not an agreement but it only gave the go-ahead for the feasibility of two connected projects.”
Warning of “unprecedented” levels of water scarcity in Jordan, Khasawneh said that resource-poor Jordan would receive 200 million cubic meters of water a year under the proposed project.
He added that Jordan’s annual water resources were about 90 cubic meters per person, below the international threshold of 500 cubic meters per person. Jordan is classified as the world’s second driest country.
“If the water situation remains unaddressed, the water share per capita in Jordan will reach 60 cubic meters by 204.”
Veteran MP Saleh Al-Armouti criticized the government for signing the agreement with Israel, explaining that the country could solve its water dilemma through implementing a set of water-harvesting and desalination projects.
The outspoken lawmaker, of Islamist leaning, called for a no-confidence motion against the government for its “betrayal of the national constants, mainly Palestine.”
Rejecting all forms of normalization with the “Zionist enemy,” veteran MP Khalil Attiyeh also suggested alternative solutions to Jordan’s water problems, including digging more ground water wells, desalination and sewage treatment projects.
MP Ahmed Qatawneh called for a national poll on the energy-for-water issue, claiming that the planned project would affect Jordan’s sovereignty over water and energy.
Meanwhile, some deputies rejected their colleagues’ criticism of the government, saying that resource-poor Jordan had no choice but to cooperate with Israel to address its water problems.
MP Hussein Harasis said that Jordan would have chosen other alternatives to Israel had they existed, while his colleague MP Najeh Odwan said that dealing with the Jews had never been an issue, adding that the Prophet Muhammad himself had done so.
The house speaker Abdulkarim Al-Dughmi called on the parliamentary agriculture and water committee to meet former minister of water Munther Haddadin for consultation.
Haddadin has previously told the government-owned Al-Mamlaka TV that Jordan had large reserves of ground water that could meet its needs for the next 500 years. He urged for the use of advanced technologies to dig deeper to reach water.
According to the US news website Axios, a massive solar farm in the Jordanian desert will be built under the project and generate clean energy to be sold to Israel in return for desalinated water.
Axios said that the solar farm would be built by the UAE government-owned alternative energy company, Masdar.
The plan calls for the solar farm to be operational by 2026 and designed to produce 2 percent of Israel’s energy by 2030, with Israel paying $180 million a year.