Israel and the Palestinian Authority have reached a water-sharing deal to bring relief to parched Palestinian communities, in a breakthrough announced during the latest visit to the region by the US Middle East envoy.
The deal announced by Jason Greenblatt, the US Middle East representative, in Jerusalem on Wednesday would give Palestinian territories about a quarter of its annual water needs at a reduced rate.
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Israel’s Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and Mazin Ghunaim, head of the Palestinian Water Authority, were also present when the deal was announced.
Greenblatt said that with the deal, Israel would provide the West Bank and Gaza Strip with 32 million cubic metres, or 32.9 billion litres, of water annually in the immediate future.
The $900m pipeline project is expected to be completed in almost five years. It is part of a larger plan, which includes Jordan, to send water through the pipeline from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea.
“Water is an extremely political issue between Israeli and Palestinian officials,” Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from West Jerusalem, said.
“The Palestinians made it clear that while they welcome this particular deal, it doesn’t affect the status of the negotiations in terms of final settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.”
The US, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators hope the deal could also pave the way for a return to negotiations between the two sides, after talks collapsed in 2014.
Palestinians suffer from water shortages and say the unequal distribution of water resources favours Israel.
“This will reduce the suffering of the Palestinian people and the crises that they are living through that have increased this summer,” he said.
In 2013, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians signed a memorandum of understanding on the water project that included plans to build a desalination plant at the Red Sea.
Hanegbi said the wider agreement was the “most ambitious” in the history of the region.
“It will supply [a] significant amount of water to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinians,” said Hanegbi.
“All of us in this room proved that water can serve as means for reconciliation, for prosperity, for cooperation, rather than be a cause for tension and dispute.”
Since it occupied the West Bank in 1967, Israel has laid hands on Palestinian water resources through water-sharing agreements that prevented Palestinians from maintaining or developing their water infrastructure through its planning and permit regime.
As a result, thousands of Palestinians are unable to access sufficient water supplies and became water-dependent on Israel.